Sadly, this is the last project we’ll ever hear from the sublime Front & Follow label, or as the label writes, “one final final FINAL project” since even this is a bonus. But Bandcamp leaves the door ajar by saying that the label “was and still is,” while the title of the latest (last?) compilation implies that retirement will not be allowed. Ironically, the label’s first release in 2008 was titled, It’s only when you get to the end that it all makes sense.
The label’s prior project was a gift to artists: the five-volume Isolation & Rejection, which collected tracks left off of other compilation albums. Like the latest set, the 115-track extravaganza was a benefit release; the newest project is a fundraiser for Coffee4Craig, which aids Manchester’s homeless and other people in need. The title comes from “Hotel California,” while the inspiration was a video for a new luxury apartment complex, as seen below. Beautiful people, beautiful sheets, beautiful suites: the opposite of the life below. Even the coffee is perfect. Who wouldn’t want to live in such a glorious, pristine place, where Stepford wives and husbands graze heaven and never seem to work, only work out?
We’re not sure what Deansgate Square thinks of You Can Never Leave, which is clearly a tongue-in-cheek homage: a series of soundtracks for upscale suburban living. The tower is visible ~ barely ~ in the dark, dark cover. “Good morning,” a computerized voice intones. “Today is 9,131.” Bone Music’s introduction confirms the superiority of the residents, and is reminiscent of the sky city in the Brazilian series 3%. Field Lines Cartographer’s “Consume and Prosper” bears the sheen of 80s synth scores, the first to adopt this undercurrent of horror. More will follow. Some of the 31 tracks are gorgeously sanitized, even inviting; but as the album progresses, the sense of danger begins to creep in. Is this a threat from the plebeians below, the dirty working class, the undeserving? Or is the threat from within: the mediocrity of elegant devices?
These Front & Follow artists use everything at their disposal: placid ambience, damaging drone, insidious electronics, even gargled heavy metal. At first, owners can ignore the rot within, as did Dorian Gray. So many lovely pings and beeps! Tracks such as F-Lithium’s “You Can Never Leave” suggest Logan’s Run, but we all know how that turned out. There’s a healthy amount of hubris involved in the video’s shameless appeal to the upper echelon, one that also screams, you have no taste, nor do you need to develop any. And there is nothing – nothing in Kepler Widow’s dissonant “Nothing to Regret” that implies nature, humanity, social responsibility. Here come the strings in “Terror in the South Tower.” The soul is leaving the body while the body is still alive.
Some of the titles are particularly amusing: “The Insufferable Shame of the Pine Nut Bulk Bin,” “Find Your Epic (A New Level of Hell,” “The Sauna Must Be Booked 24 Hours in Advance.” Is this really heaven, or a scrubbed nightmare? Precisely how happy is the upper class? What would occur if a resident were to skip one of those cappuccinos? Try playing one of these tracks, say TVO’s “The Intense Humming of Evil,” over the advert, and everything changes. The demon emerges from the wallpaper, the wasp (“Contemporary City Living”) from the window.
For the rest of us, it’s encouraging to know that not all is as it seems. We assume that the Uber-rich prance above us while we toil below, akin to the gods of Olympus. But there is trouble in Paradise, as anyone familiar with Olympian legends knows. Sins are amplified by their impunity. By “Find Your Epic,” it’s full-on Dante, scalding in the lake of fire.
“We live in the sky now; we never want to leave; we want to leave,” a pair of narrators intones. “I love my life,” another boasts. “Everyone can see that I’m a success.” This sky is a temporary hell, a pit stop on the way to damnation. Meanwhile, on the ground level, Front & Follow is busy helping others while dying. Perhaps the ultimate reward for Manchester’s upper echelon is the reversal of stratification as others pass through them on their way to the life above. (Richard Allen)