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V/A - American Noise


“I never really wanted to have a face or any type of image attached to the whole label. A lot of this dance music shit, it’s fucking image. It’s all image and no content, to me. So I didn’t want it to be that way, but it ends up being that way anyway, so fuck it.”

Good news everyone, Ron Morelli doesn’t give a toss what you think of L.I.E.S! Of course, I doubt he’s upset about winning RA label of the year, or that his fighting talk is backed by a shedload of high-quality releases, highlighted on this first label compilation. And American Noise does a pretty good job of summing up the protean L.I.E.S. sound, rooted in vintage synths, tape hiss, strobe lights and smoke machines, with only a couple of small steps in directions few listeners will want to follow.

The first disc (of two) handily re-releases a few choice back catalogue items that even the most puffed-up Discogs keyboard masher might have struggled to get hold of. Jahiliyya Fields’ somewhat meandering opener leads into Steve Moore’s “Frigia”; an epic, trance-inducing odyssey that ticks all my ten-minute arpeggiated brain-stimulation boxes and might be the highlight of the entire album.

The sequencing is top-notch for a label compilation, so things continue at almost uniformly high quality even if the next three tracks were possibly also selected for their ludicrous resale prices. Marcos Cabral’s sinuous “24 Hour Flight” segues excellently into the highly representative “Sark Island Acid” from the irrepressible Legowelt, as already reviewed on this site, and a dark, noodly low BPM number from Terekke.

“Cassette Arabic” from Maxmillion Dunbar is another highlight, an uncategorisable but eminently floor-friendly new wave experiment. It pairs up very well with Bookworms “African Rhythms”, which sounds a bit like one of them there post-dubstep tunes, except made on a battered 8-track. Even muddier are Torn Hawk’s “Shock Tape” and “5th Floor” from Morelli’s own Two Dogs In A House project with Jason Letkiewicz; the latter managing to wrap the fuzz round a highly adept bassline that wouldn’t sound out of place on some early 90s Murk release, bad pressing and all. Unfortunately, it all goes a bit far when Vapauteen rounds off the first CD with a particularly egregious example of one of those chopped and screwed gabber tracks, perhaps the less said about which the better, as there is more to come.

After all that, it may be the second disc that is of most interest to completists due to the exclusives. There are a couple of tracks from Legowelt’s partner in crime Bonquiqui / Xosar: the bonkers “Sansoftime” that sounds like a nearly-broken sampler being thrown repeatedly into a metal bin, and a remix of “Tropical Cruize” from Delroy Edwards, which recalls an over-flanged Todd Edwards (no relation?) and doesn’t succeed to the same degree. It’s not really a great day for Mr Edwards, who previously provides another one of those heavily-distorted kick tracks that seems to take inspiration from the sound in the corrugated iron toilets at Corsica Studios.

Of those artists who double up across the discs, Legowelt and Terekke generally mine similar lodes for inspiration and Marcos Cabral shows how a (subtly) distorted kick can actually work on the surely Weatherall-friendly slow jam “Tio Rico”. Bookworms and Svengalisghost top their contributions to the first half, both adding some laser emotion to otherwise purely functional basslines. Of the previously-released tracks, the highlight is “Journey I”, an epic, wigged-out re-edit in the 80s 12” disco dub tradition, with added noise and subtracted studio wankery. A big “well done” to Unknown Artist, who goes straight to the top of my ones to watch in 2013.

Quotes like the opening to this review make L.I.E.S. and its curmudgeonly founder easy to like before you even get to the music. But, all the better, that works too: the punk rock insouciance and wilful under-equalised aesthetic mask a productive, organised, award-winning machine, walking a clever tightrope between uncompromising integrity and feeding the hype by not playing the game. It seems unlikely to be a calculated strategy, but it’s a remarkably successful one both artistically and promotionally.

Sam Stagg


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