Blackford Hill ~ Transmissions / Volume One

Simon Lewin’s recently founded Blackford Hill label continues its amazing run of releases with the charity compilation Transmissions / Volume One.  All profits go to the housing and homelessness charity Shelter. The 2CD hardback edition is a treasure, with 32 pages of extras including print work from Peter Green and essays by The Wire‘s Julian Cowley.  But of course it’s all about the music, 31 tracks in all, from composers both familiar and surprising in a variety of genres.

Emily Scott’s The Garden is reminiscent of This Mortal Coil.  Right off the bat, we are reminded of 4AD.  The collection contains few vocal tracks, but they make an impact wherever they land.  Scott’s theme matches both season and charity, a fitting overture for such a diverse set.  King Creosote’s reimagining of “Stopping Out” receives a colorful video from Jonny Hannah and Cameron Duguid, hoping to reach a wider audience upon re-release.  With lyrics of blackbirds and the sound of church bells, the piece sings of spring with and without words.  Its parent project, Rob St. John’s Surface Tension, is also featured on the comp, and has recently been re-pressed for those who missed it.  St. John’s title track segues beautifully into Sam McCloughlin’s “Scry Me a River,” another water-based piece.  Also receiving a new round of worthy attention: the Sing the Gloaming project, which appeared on our year-end chart The Happiest Music of the Year only a few months back.

Deeper timbres descend on Kate Carr’s “The Owls Were Calling That Dark, Dark Night,” a welcome development.  Birds cry as fire crackles; we recall the Australian wildfires.  Toward the end, Carr will reappear on “The Coral Sea.”  Bow Gamelan Ensemble contributes tendrils of abstraction.  The first disc ends with spectral voices and the words, “Tell him I died with his name on my skin.”

The dark ending of Disc One gives no indication that Disc Two will begin with a dance piece: cries of “Hey!” and pulsing rhythms.  Holmes and Atten Ash’s “Prometheus” leads to Matthew Brown’s even more pounding synth trip “The Applicant.”  There’s no pigeonholing this label, which is part of its appeal.  But Blackford Hill does care about sequencing, bunching the field recording tracks together in one segment and the club worthy tracks in another.  The value to the consumer (apart from the obvious ability to give to a great charity) is the opportunity to venture outside one’s sonic comfort zone.  Whether one prefers dub, choir, or subway harmonica, one may be curious about the track next door.  Nick Ryan’s “Machine 9 Mona” is even lodged in the industrial corridor.  By Hanna Tuulikki’s “By the Shoreline,” paired sweetly with the aforementioned “The Coral Sea,” one begins to ponder the connection between birdsong and chanteuse, river and rhythm.  The album wraps back to the start, ready to begin again.  (Richard Allen)

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