I can’t be objective about this benefit compilation, because my neighbors are among the beneficiaries. I live in the path taken by Hurricane Sandy, and while I lost a couple trees and was without power for a few days, others in my neighborhood were not as fortunate. Three months after the storm, some of them are still not back in their houses; some lack power; one is staying with relatives in a nearby state and commuting three hours each way to work five days a week. This is a continuing catastrophe; the world has moved on, but the areas affected have not. And so, the first reaction I have to such a compilation is gratitude; it’s wonderful to see so many artists and friends contributing to such an effort. All proceeds benefit Doctors Without Borders and The Humane Society, so every dollar contributed to this project is a dollar well spent.
Now to the music. This is, as Headphone Commute admits, a “colossal compilation”. It’s hard to find the time to listen to 87 tracks; for a couple days I just let it play while at work until I could zero in on my favorites. So here’s my advice to listeners and readers: this is worth your time and money, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. My tactic was to narrow it down to 17 tracks, enough to fit on an 80-minute CD-R. My choices are not the same as others; I compared setlists with one of the artists on the compilation, who had chosen a set with only minor overlap. But we did agree that it would be hard for anyone to enjoy all of these songs equally. For ambient fans, it’s an embarrassment of riches, and modern composition fans will find plenty to love as well. Most of our readers will be enticed at the prospect of hearing new music from some of their favorite artists, ranging from Kreng and Machinefabriek to Max Richter and Nils Frahm. A few pieces, although not exclusive to this collection, are well worth hearing again or discovering for the first time; these include entries from Anoice and Valgeir Sigurdsson. But when push comes to shove, perhaps the best way to evaluate the compilation as a potential purchaser – no matter what one may think about the charity aspect – is can I get at least $10 worth of great music here? And the answer to this question is an unqualified yes.
My artist friend pointed out to me that I seemed to have a preference for strings and piano, which is true. But the personal aspect comes into play as well. The peaceful, soothing tracks did not work as well for me because the experience of living through Hurricane Sandy, from approach to aftermath, was anything but soothing. The winds were frightening and fierce; the waters that submerged my neighbors’ cars and flooded their homes were raging and mean; the morning-after damage had the scent of mold, rust and despair. The tracks I prefer reflect the uneasiness of the rising winds and the melancholy of the cleanup. Some contain sound effects, ranging from the rising rain of The Frozen Vaults’ opener “A Year Without Summer” and the thunder of Pleq featuring Strië’s “Our Words Are Frozen” to the terrifying wind-like drones of Black Swan’s “Of Land and Water” and the crackling of Autistici’s well-named “A Concise Model of Power Outage”. Some are simply comforting, like the entries from Fabrizio Paterlini, Dustin O’Halloran and Dakota Suite & Quentin Sirjacq. And some offer encouragement through fullness: Last Days, Olan Mill, Christoph Berg. I don’t want to mention all of my favorites, because then the other artists might feel left out, and that’s not the point of this review; the point is that this is something every one of our ambient and modern composition minded readers should get, because there’s enough good stuff here for most people to enjoy a bountiful meal.
The waters may have receded, but the starkest needs have not; thank you, Headphone Commute, for continuing to call attention to those who are struggling. (Richard Allen)