Various Artists ~ 010

cover010 is not the tenth in a series, but the area code for the city of Rotterdam, from which all of these sounds were sourced.  On the surface, this is an electronic album, but below the surface, it’s the heartbeat and texture of a city.  Regular readers will recall Lakker’s Struggle & Emerge, which used a similar approach.  This is the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision’s follow-up to that release and its successor, the equally engaging Damrak.  The most recent releases are both found on Fog Mountain Records, and are offered as digital downloads, but the accompanying softbound photo books are worth the modest extra cost.  The images ~ paired with specific tracks ~ add a worthy visual component, and the essays fill in the backgrounds and help bring the cities to life for those who have never visited.

book-1As the introduction states, “Amsterdam sleeps while Rotterdam works.”  This ethic is evident throughout the album, whose sounds include the dark and industrial: glowing anvils and broken cogs, construction and transit, broken down buildings and littered shores.  The photographs imply that something is always being built.  One imagines the Rotterdam workers as dedicated soldiers employed in a higher cause, overwriting their city’s history with new visions: a blue-collar, can-do mentality.  After all, there wasn’t much left of the city after the devastation of the Second World War.

book2One of the few buildings to survive was the Sint Laurenskerk church, whose bells feature strongly in Roly Porter’s track of the same name.  This gorgeous, beat-free, string-laden excursion concentrates on the tolling of church bells and lays the groundwork, literal and figurative, for the remainder of the album.  HOEK’s “Haven” is the sinew that stretches the album’s sound from the couch to the clubs, establishing a mood with synth and deep beats while never giving way to the dance floor.  The album’s center tracks feature more straightforward beats, swaying from hard techno to industrial, but lose a bit of the early fascination; the later tracks make a strong recovery.  Rotterdam’s trajectory is too fascinating to be represented by constant tempos.  But even the middle tracks contain hints of history, from screeches to sirens, that indicate the city’s rebirth has not come easy.

The latter part of 010 includes some of its most unpredictable tracks.  Fis and Meta eschew beats in deference to dark, abrasive excursions, while Oaktree softens the blow with edgy ambience.  ANIK’s “Maastunnel” is the most obvious choice for a single, as it returns often to a palpable chorus and contains the most relatable samples.  BZGRL contributes the album’s most appealing single piece; “Koppelen” takes its take to establish a mood with creative percussive samples before diving into a forge of metal and melody.  By track’s end, the tempos have gone off the rails; one can hear them subside as they hit concrete.  Finally, Lwa returns to the sounds of the city’s most famous church, implying upward movement, the arrow of history reset.  Do the bells still toll?  They do, even as Rotterdam’s workers return home in the blinding light of the dawn.  (Richard Allen)

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