This is fourth part of the extended ‘Liner Notes on 2022’ blog series. As hinted in Part II, this edition is dedicated to three record labels that project a common ethos and vision, share the same passion, meticulousness and visual aesthetics and feature regularly in the blog’s annual roundups. From timid beginnings they have all evolved to warm and devoted communities of like-minded music lovers. Despite the different musical direction and backgrounds of the featured artists, who are based across the globe, there is a common denominator: emotionally draining and riveting music, a celebration of human intellect and touch.
I have manifested in previous posts the importance of a strong visual identity. Of course, attractive logos, names and artwork don’t compensate for dreadful music. The digital age seems relentless on burying new music beneath an endless scroll. Everything has become too derivative, which has effectively rendered filtering and discovering new labels and artists a perpetual challenge. Therefore, an appealing visual presence is definitely a head-start, at least from a collector’s point of view. I realize that there might be shades of pretentiousness and elitism in the above statement and I can see eyebrows raising already. Not every artist is a graphic designer, aesthetics are de facto subjective, design, packaging and manufacturing can be costly beyond reason and most importantly artwork should not sideline music per se. However, as a music producer, artist and friend of the blog has accurately pointed out: “… in many cases artwork has been hugely responsible for the image and longevity of a label/artist/band and without it they might have been portrayed completely differently”.
If the side-title sounds confusing, let me elaborate. Alliteration is a literary device in prosody; the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words or stressed syllables. In certain languages the use of alliteration is rare or absent, in others that emphasize tonality (such as Chinese) is very common. It’s also a pronounced way to signify that the alliterative words are linked together thematically, and sheds light on the subject contained therein. Depending on the sound and/or context alliteration might have different effects; it may inject focus, harmony and rhythm. It might make words sound whispered evoking an air of mystery, reverence or intimacy. It can be awakening, uplifting or even violent. There’s a certain artist, who consistently toys with alliteration in most of his titles. If you don’t know already who I am referring to, read on.
Founded by sonic architect and explorer Robert Raths in 2007, Erased Tapes has evolved from a small independent label to a multi-cultural creative hub. The label’s sound is esoteric and quite diverse, transcending genres and styles. Blurring the lines between composition and improvisation, from avant-garde electronica to contemporary classical music, the label’s output encompasses musicality, sound aesthetics and subtle emotional gravity. 2022 marked Erased Tapes’ 15th anniversary, which was celebrated with an annual compilation and specially curated nights in London and Berlin.
Selected 2022 highlights:
Penguin Café – A Matter of Life … 2021 (ERATP149)
Celebrating the 10th anniversary of their debut album, ‘A Matter of Life …’ has been completely re-mastered and pressed on vinyl for the very first time, featuring also a brand new recording of the lead single ‘Harry Piers’, a song commemorating Arthur Jeffes’ late father and Penguin Cafe Orchestra founder Simon Jeffes.
Performed by an array of accomplished artists (including Suede’s Neil Codling and ex-Gorillaz drummer Cass Browne) using an astonishingly wide range of instruments (ukulele, penny whistles, melodica, cuatros, Northumbrian pipes etc.), to reflect the journey that inspired the album in the first place, Penguin Café’s contemporary classical panoramas and emotive melodies gracefully capture imagination even in the most remote and silent places.
The original cover artwork based on a painting by Emily Young has been stylishly re-imagined in the shape of a beautiful photograph taken by the UK photographer and long-time collaborator Alex Kozobolis. Replacing the little boy (which suggested father and son) with Arthur’s daughter, the concept was not only to give a new lease of life to the original painting, but also to signify the passing of the torch to the next generation; a heart-warming and emotive piece of art …
“I originally wrote ‘Harry Piers’ to play at my dad‘s memorial service 24 years ago, and I played it at the end of pretty much every gig (and soundcheck) we’ve done since, so I’ve probably played it hundreds if not thousands of times since we originally released A Matter of Life… So when we decided to reissue the album, Robert and I both felt it would be fun to record an up-to-date version of this song, because it has changed over time and it continues to evolve. While this is still very much the same tune, I think it has a lot more nuance and detail that reflect the years that have passed since 2011” – Arthur Jeffes
Favourite Track: Coriolis
VA – Erased Tapes 15 (ERATP150)
I firmly believe that Various Artists compilations are an under-appreciated art form. Streaming platforms may have effectively become a substitute, as anybody nowadays can tailor their playlists according to their preferences, mood and taste. The real purpose of a compilation though is to trace those gossamer threads that connect seemingly diverse artists and present them in a new context. It takes a certain mastery and ingenuity to curate such compilations, to create a new narrative and meaning, especially in a culture of constant distraction and minimal attention span, so I’d still argue that compilations are still as relevant as ever.
‘Erased Tapes 十五’ celebrates the label’s 15-year history. Instead of the obvious highlights, Robert Raths decided to focus on previously unreleased material and various recordings, which for various reasons have been somewhat overlooked. Released as a 3LP set and digitally on November 4, to coincide with specially curated festivals in London and Berlin, the Erased Tapes 15th anniversary compilation features 23 tracks by all the label regulars including Rival Consoles, Peter Broderick, Nils Frahm, Hatis Noit, Lubomyr Melnyk, Belle Orchestre and many more.
“I think that’s what a compilation is in the end; it’s a collage of lots of different things that forms a whole. Over the years I’ve grown fond of doing it, as it might just give someone the opportunity to discover the unknown. And that’s already worth it.” – Robert Raths
The distinctive artwork illustrating ‘15’ expressed in kanji, was designed by Raths applying sumi ink with a small sponge on a couple of bamboo wet tissues; additional design and layout by Bernd Kuchenbeiser. That first attempt was eventually used on the cover sleeve. Playing with the oxymoron, the little blemishes of imperfection that capture a vital moment render it perfect.
Favourite Track: Masayoshi Fujita – Book of Life
Ben Lucas Boysen – Clarion EP (ERATP148)
Expanding on the themes and concepts of his 2020 album ‘Mirage’, Ben Lucas Boysen released a companion EP featuring the lead track ‘Clarion’, two brand new tracks (‘Lux’, ‘Plexus’) as well as three special remixes by Kiasmos, Foodman and Scottish post-rock luminaries Mogwai.
The new tracks and the Foodman remix, revisit the angular corners and granular mindset of ‘Mirage’, whereas the Kiasmos and Mogwai remixes have instilled kaleidoscopic, reverie elements into Boysen’s intrinsically detailed originals. In Ben’s own words:
“Hearing how Kiasmos tamed the somewhat rough nature of ‘Clarion’ and elevated it to a focused and highly energized dream-like state, made my day when I first heard the remix. The floating and driving rhythm of this version distills the original into a luxurious percussive meditation”.
“To have Mogwai join the team of remixers felt like a badge of honour. I knew their music even before I was making music myself and to have the minds and instruments of legends reworking one of my pieces, especially in the imaginative way they did, makes this release more than special to me”
Favourite Track: Clarion (Kiasmos Remix)
A Strangely Isolated Place (ASIP) is a music blog, community and record label. Founded by Ryan Griffin in 2008, the name is inspired by Ulrich Schnauss’ eponymous debut album, which has been a great influence to ASIP. The ethos though stretches beyond the interpretation of the title; to the belief that everyone is inspired by their own strangely isolated place. ASIP began as a music blog and mix series in 2008; the digital release series started in 2012 and the first crowd-funded vinyl foray in 2013. In 2019 the label launched 9128.live – a curated 24/7 radio stream featuring music from ASIP artists, friends and affiliated labels.
A showcase of individual tracks from ASIP’s 2022 label releases and a special continuous DJ mix of this year’s music from todos are available here.
Selected 2022 highlights:
Strie & Scanner – Struktura Revisited (ASIPV034)
Strië (Polish composer and multi-instrumentalist Olga Wojciechowska) and veteran electronic producer Robin Rimbaud aka Scanner give a new lease of life to Olga’s 2015 acclaimed album ‘Struktura’, originally published in 2015 by another favourite label of mine Serein on limited edition CD format.
The concept of ‘Struktura’ revolves around modernist artworks, an imaginary dialogue between the ordinary and the avant-garde. Counter-intuitively, the overall impression leans toward the ‘abstract’ rather than the ‘structured’ and yet the elusive, fine details of Strië’s esoteric compositions reveal a mystifying beauty. Olga’s original recordings have remained untouched and have been re-mastered by Rafael Anton Irisarri.
Although Scanner’s productions waver across an array of different styles, now he has adopted a minimal live-hardware approach exclusively for this project. Recorded in one take, Scanner has deconstructed the original material to its core elements, capturing that moment of revelation, where simplicity and subtlety intersect with complexity and precision.
Featuring artwork by Rep Ringel, ‘Struktura Revisited’ has been available on gatefold 2LP in a black/grey half-and-half vinyl, with a 6×6” soft-touch heavy art card.
Favourite Track: Man & The Cosmos Around
Christian Kleine – Touch & Fuse (ASIP034V)
Christian Kleine’s ASIP debut ‘Electronic Music From The Lost World: 1998-2001’ (ASIPV010, 2018) was a collection of previously unreleased material; a snapshot of a vital period of his musical career, profoundly inspired by the company of the City Centre Offices artists in Berlin.
‘Touch & Fuse’ is the brilliant follow-up, which was originally released on CD format in 2020, and has now become available on neon orange 2xLP. Drawing from a wide palette of musical styles varying wildly from post-punk and early IDM to electro and even drum & bass, the album radiates an ardent sense of melodic finesse. Reflecting on those influences and a time when writing music was all that mattered, ‘Touch & Fuse’ is a love letter to Berlin’s musical landscape; an album about communities, human interaction and the cross-pollination of cultures, arts and ideas.
“You’re heavily inspired by what you love and will do anything to be a part of it when growing up. The more you create, the more familiar you become as the years move on, and your ambition to perfect it becomes even stronger.” – Christian Kleine
Favourite Track: Bury Oceans With Sand
Viul & Benoit Pioulard – Konec (ASIPV035)
‘Konec’, by New-York based ambient trailblazers and recording partners Luke Entelis (Viul) and Thomas Meluch (Benoît Pioulard), is another one of the many albums written amidst the pandemic; a distraction, refuge and personal solace from the white noise and hysteria of their home city surroundings. The ominous title translates to ‘end’ in Czech; the end of normality, certainty, social canon and human connection.
Both working in isolation, exchanging ideas, sketches and loops, short interludes eventually transformed into a sonic narrative; the soundtrack of a post-apocalyptic metropolis in decay. Although there are sparse glimmers of hope, the album’s closing vignette ‘A Real Place’ is an urgent and solemn reminder of complicated emotions and times.
The sleeve artwork by Liz Harris (which at first glance reminded me of Medusa’s head, the monster from Greek mythology with venomous snakes instead of hair, who would turn to stone those who gazed into her eyes) perfectly captures the poignant essence of the album.
Favourite Track: French Funeral
OKRAA is the alias of UK-based Colombian artist Juan Carlos Torres Alonso to cater for his synthesizer-heavy ambient music. Better known for his electro, breaks, UK Garage and Latin-infused experiments for Lobster Theremin under his other moniker Laudrup, the artist name drew my attention pronto (being a football fan) and when I read on his facebook page that he used to go for a kick-about in red ‘Hummel’ shirts in the 80s and 90s, the reference to the Danish football maestro Michael Laudrup became evident.
Despite the album title sounding like an archive or retrospective collection (like K&Ds’ recent ‘1995’ for instance), there’s much more to OKRAA’s debut that ties it to ASIP than circumstantial associations. Based on a library of patterns, modules and field recordings, originally designed for live performances, ‘1994’ is a conceptual album spread across four extended tracks, each inspired by different life events. Alonso’s fluidity, energy and creative flair studies and explores various aesthetic elements, like light, color, and texture. Melodramatic synth pads back-light the scene, dramatic silhouettes fade in the distance, figments of Alonso’s electric dreams.
Favourite Track: Heartless
Founded by Zach Frizzell (zakè) in 2018 and based in Indianapolis, Past Inside The Present has rapidly become a focal point for ambient, drone, soundscape, and minimal music by passionate artists from across the world. Their release schedule has been so hectic lately, that it’s become a mission to keep up with. With painstaking attention to all aspects of their physical products, from the artwork and the layout (the latter done almost single-handedly by Frizzell) to the liner notes and of course the actual music, PITP is definitely a label to watch.
Selected 2022 highlights:
awakened souls – Night Songs (PITPV030)
The latest offering – and my favourite so far – from awakened souls, the ambient project of the Los Angeles-based couple James and Cynthia Bernard, is a collection of songs initially aimed at helping them soothe the pressure from the frantic pandemic days in 2021. The culmination of their combined search for evening music is ‘Night Songs’.
Many people with poor sleep associate their bedrooms with frustration and sleepless nights. ‘Night Songs’ though, extends beyond a sleeping routine. James’ bass guitar loops and Cynthia’s siren-esque vocal textures add deep, saturated hues to the monochrome silence, encapsulating a place and time where distractions, troubling or anxious thoughts are banished, encouraging a much-needed physical and mental relaxation state.
Artwork and design by Cynthia Bernard, layout by zakè.
Favourite Track: Falling Stars
From Overseas & City of Dawn – Misty Memories (PITPV061)
This is the first collaborative work from PITP label mates From Overseas (Kévin Séry) and City of Dawn (Damien Duque). A personal and reflective musical diary that elegantly captures those blurry memories, before they inevitably fade into oblivion, ‘Misty Memories’ showcases their mutual dalliance for guitar-based ambient music and tape loops, featuring also vocal contributions from Cynthia Bernard (marine eyes).
Hidden annexes littered with thoughts left just as they were on the day they were conceived, music we’ll probably never have time to listen to again, locked in its own era, friends turning into acquaintances, places and faces replaced with an approximation; all those memory cues captured on fuzzy VHS tapes, like tourists in our own youth.
‘Misty Memories’ is a soundtrack for our memories and time passing by. – Kévin & Damien
Photography by Kévin Séry, design and layout by zakè
Favourite Track: Silent Friends
bvdub & James Bernard – Departing In Descent (PITPV033)
Music is a sanctuary and a remedy, a form and a means of escapism from a bleak environment, a portal beyond the four walls of a depressingly mundane reality. The world of music abounds with accounts of producers channeling their difficulties, hopes and fears into creation and although Brock and James’ stories are not too dissimilar, they still transcend the standard stereotype. Separated by 2586 miles or a coast-to-coast 6h flight, their life and musical career has been running into parallel trajectories for decades. And then, one fateful night in Los Angeles, Brock and James were suddenly in the same place at the same time and it all became clear.
If you can’t escape destiny, you’d better direct it. ‘Departing in Descent’ is Brock and James’ first collaborative work and is exactly what you’d expect from the two originators; a nosedive into their magical and nostalgic world which counterbalances the painful monotony of contemporary reality. But instead of plummeting into the ground, we are floating weightlessly in cosmic bliss defying gravity. Lyrical reflections are dispersed with dazzling images, Cynthia’s fragile and intimate vocals are whisper-thin as a heartbeat and the whimsical alliterations of the track titles elevate the music and themes into a whole new level of thought-provoking and challenging art.
Photography by Cynthia Bernard, layout by zakè
Favourite Track: Stares in Sapphires
Dennis Huddleston (36) is a certified album writer, who has found a unique, signature voice in a niche, yet saturated market, partly because he doesn’t fit the description of the standard ambient musician. Defying the initial frustration of low interest from labels and distributors, Dennis made the brave decision to form 3Six Recordings in 2009 and release his early material himself. Fast forward a decade later, Huddleston has garnered a dedicated fan-base from all over the world.
‘The Box’, a re-mastered collection of those early works, traces the roots of his musical journey; a seductive, compelling and powerful interplay between music and images; dreamy, introspective and emotive, where the abstract intersects with the tangible.
The deluxe boxset contains the re-mastered version of 36’s first 3 albums ‘Hypersona’, ‘Hollow’ and ‘Lithea’ (written between 2005 and 2012) a curated selection of compilation tracks titled ‘Orphans’, as well as arrangements exclusive for this collector’s edition, which spans across six vinyl records, each with different color, housed in three gatefold jackets with their own unique artwork.
“These early albums are incredibly precious to me. I wrote them as a young man, full of naive dreams and a seemingly endless supply of ideas. I poured my heart and soul into realising them. They were the foundations of everything I have made since. To have them all together, in such a beautifully presented box set is a dream come true for me.” – 36
Fans of 36 rejoice …
Favourite Track: Seance (from Lithea)
ASC – Eye of The Storm (PITPV057)
I have been on a personal crusade for years to trace the links between ambient and drum & bass, two genres which seem polar opposites. I’d always fiercely argue though that there are strong common threads both technically and emotionally. When I read the intriguing announcement about a forthcoming ASC EP on PITP, I assumed at first that it would be an ambient record in the vein of his brilliant albums for Silent Season. When I listened to the actual tracks though, I was pleasantly surprised and felt that my ramblings have somehow been finally vindicated.
I will refrain from reviewing the drum & bass part as I have already done it extensively for Clements’ work for this blog. It’s all about the stunning ambient re-interpretations by zake & James Bernard, Inhmost and Christina Giannone. Some things are better left unsaid, not even implied. Giannone’s ‘unsaid mix’ of the title track is absolutely breathtaking and one of my favourite tracks of 2022.
Photography, layout, and design by zakè
Favourite Track: Eye of the Storm (Christina Giannone Unsaid Mix)
Also in the series:
Liner Notes on 2022 – Part I (Borrowed Nostalgia)
Liner Notes on 2022 – Part II (Impressions of Absence)
Liner Notes on 2022 – Part III (Extrapolations)