V/A ~ Music Activists 2020 (From Home)

One may take to the streets to be an activist, or in the time of social distancing, one may do so at home.  While InFiné’s latest set is of a general nature, it highlights the power of music to make a difference.  Music has been an integral part of protest movements throughout history. Music unites people by producing a sense of solidarity; it provides solace and a feeling that one is not alone. Music Activists (From Home) provided artists with the opportunity to work in conjunction with their peers to produce new music in a time of isolation.  The result is a 34-track collection of various styles, underlining the power of creativity as an alternative to destruction.

The tracks are presented in alphabetical order by artist name, an egalitarian approach that preserves the element of surprise while occasionally interrupting the flow.  There’s no forgetting the fact that Music Activists is a collection rather than a concept album.  But as it’s digital-only, one can create one’s own sequencing at home.  Many artists are familiar to readers of our site, but there are many new names here as well.  As expected, we have a few favorites, but as usual, we recognize that others may choose different highlights; in fact, the best use of this album is for listeners to do exactly that: to stumble upon artists they might not otherwise have known.

Aārp launches the set with “Éclats de Verre (Glass Fragments),” a dramatic piece whose title might seem unfortunate given current events, save for the fact that the artist is intensely political.  His new album Propaganda was inspired by the death of a festival attendee who drowned after an encounter with police in Nantes.  Suddenly we realize that we didn’t have to wait for this album to be topical; it already is.  And it would be hard to read Carl Craig‘s track title “Free at Last” without thinking of Dr. King.  Less obvious is Diamondstern‘s “The Villain,” as the track doesn’t sound villainous at all; instead it’s a mid-tempo roller that utilizes bell-like synth to imitate a chase. Who is the villain, and who is the hero?  Or can each of us, at any time, be both?

Gaspar Claus‘ string-heavy “Les Etoiles Dansent (The Stars Dance) is a lovely propulsive piece of modern composition, and while it has more of a pulse than a beat, you can definitely dance to it.  In contrast, Kajsa Lindgren‘s “Intertwine” is the set’s longest piece at 10:02, and the only soundscape (although not the only one to use field recordings); it’s also the most distinctive track.  Lindgren starts by sharing memories of Michigan birds, then folds in the sounds of children and church bells, happy conversations and soft suburban drones.  Then it’s back to modern composition with Labelle (no, not that Labelle, we should probably stop saying that, but people forget).  The sprightly “La Chamane (The Shaman)” pivots across a field of woodwinds and strings on its way to a large open field.  One of the few vocal tracks, La Finca‘s “What Cloud Say,” closes with the comforting sentence, “It’s all right; you’re never alone.”

The electronic bells of “Digital Hope” reflect the title of Léonie Pernet‘s piece; we’ll take our hope in any form we can get.  It’s not the first track to use bells, nor the last; they reappear a track later at the end of Lucie Antunes‘ “El Amanacer (Dawn).”  It’s pretty obvious that bells, especially church bells, imply idealism and hope, certainly more than the image of a president holding a Bible (sorry, had to).  These sounds lift us up, instead of shoving us down and putting a knee on our necks.

We’re feeling fortunate to be able to hear new music from Rone so soon after Room With a View, which is still on our Recommendations page.  “Sunset to Sunrise” begins as an ambient track, turns into an electronic piece, and ends with a modern composition climax, a concise reminder of Rone’s blended style.  Swimming‘s plucked and bowed “Peace and Ramati,” one of three short pieces on the album’s back end, culminates in footsteps.  Vanessa Wagner brings the project to a conclusion with a piano cover of Deaf Center’s “Time Spent,” a perfectly peaceful ending given the fact that in order to land here, the artist had to have a name at the end of the alphabet!  The title likely refers to time spent in lockdown, but poses an important question: now that people are taking to the streets, how will we spend the time ahead?  (Richard Allen)

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