Chicago and London based label Thrill Jockey are on a good streak lately; the vein theyâ€™ve struck takes a cross section straight through independent minded music. They rival other great indie labels like Drag City for their ability to thread together a cohesively interesting roster in a multi-dimensional patchwork.
Even though I wasnâ€™t blown away by the High Places debut that dropped a few months back, I was certainly intrigued by it. Pontiakâ€™s Sun on Sun is probably my most spun record of the last few months and Iâ€™m already salivating over their Thrill Jockey follow up and the new Arbouretum record that is ready to fly in March.
Ye Viols by Lithops is nothing like those two bands, nor is it that similar to High Places. It collects various pieces of music recorded by Jan St. Werner that were constructed to be played at various art installations. The label page goes into a lot of detail about the specific uses of certain tracks, but I wasnâ€™t too interested in reading that myselfâ€¦
If it is useful for reference my very limited background in electronic music reads like this: I love My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, Boards of Canada, Murcof, some Fourtet, and some Aphex Twin. Other than that my interest in electronics is as a backdrop and augmentation for more conventional song forms. These compositions are by nature quite elusive. They often become rhythmical in the conventional sense as on â€˜handedâ€™, but this piece then breaks down into multiple sound sources with diverging tempos that pay no heed to each other. This disorientation is a recurring theme, although a few feature distinct beats contextualising the sounds.
Recently a record collecting friend of mine has been trawling through the charity shops and amongst rarer, high value finds he is often bringing home albums of test recordings for Hammond Organs, harmoniums and other keyboards. The idea of these LPâ€™s seem to be to put the instrument through its paces, prove itâ€™s versatility and demonstrate itâ€™s desirability. This Lithops record seems to be doing the same by using a computerâ€™s ability to generate, or manipulate samples of sound. â€˜sebquenzâ€™ throws out a wide array of textures, from Nintendo-esque synths to acid sharp scything.
There are a few more abstract pieces, like â€˜in nitroâ€™ which are plainly uninteresting to me, featuring a few scattered occurrences. The opening track â€˜grafâ€™ is one of the most interesting pieces and features the kind of oceanic synth gurgles that Kieran Hebden made use of on his last album with Steve Reid (review HERE) which unlike Ye Viols was a cohesive collection of work. Although I found the recent Alva Noto record highly stimulating (review HERE) despite the fact that it was almost purely focussed on electronic sound, I find good sounds just as intriguing when placed in recognisable song formats. Perhaps even more so, as the attraction of rhythm does not always distract from the qualities of the sounds that hang from its bones, the depth of the experience often seems to be increased.
Ye Viols, like those organ test records, is directed at a few highly interested listeners, at the exclusion of others. It doesnâ€™t have the broad appeal and rewarding forms to match the technical abilities of sonic sculpture on display. But Iâ€™m the kind of person who avoids art galleries if I sniff conceptâ€¦ Listening to this album is a little like listening to Gardeners Question Time, when youâ€™ve never gardened in your life and have no mental image of the plants being discussed.