Various Artists ~ Matter Affect

Happy Anniversary, Esc.rec. ~ 18 years old and now on your hundredth release!  How are you going to celebrate?  We’re going to release a three-hour box set featuring artists reflecting on the pandemic, we’ll stuff the box with as many goodies as we can think of, and lead with an 18-minute track to honor the number of years we’ve been in business!  Wow!

So yes, Hydra Ensemble‘s “ICE” is a long introduction, turning from drone to avid experimentalism, a dirge for the ages.  But doesn’t the pandemic deserve this sort of requiem?  We’re all worn out, the Der Perifeer platform is worn out, but we’re ready to start again.  The fact that these songs were also presented live at the Valkhof Festival in the Netherlands is itself a small miracle.  And not every track is this long; there’s a 5-second track, and a 6-second track, and we’re still experiencing time distortion two years later.

Are those chickens in “sonder?”  Whatever birds nobuka puts into the mix, we’re confident that no eggs were cracked.  The world was cracked, we were cracked, but bird life went on as before, with a little less air and noise pollution.  The combination of industry, wildlife and melody is a contagious collision.  Toward the end, the traffic returns.  FEAN responds by singing and sounding chimes, a lovely form of lullaby.   atoomclub takes the train amid sirens, counterbalancing the chaos with guitar.  Each person has their own defense mechanism.  “Life in the village, it’s difficult,” admits Plan Knuutntoone, battling church bells with dissonant improvisation.

Many entries seem to take place in a fog, such as the “Vivarium” collaboration.  The news never seemed to get any better; the fog never seemed to clear.  Certain titles are painfully of their time:  “Social Distancing,” “A lot has happened since you last logged in.”  And yet some artists seem to have made it through okay, reflecting on the experience with wistfulness.  Kabas is one of these, the all-too-brief “Avondstad” one of the compilation’s most melodic pieces.  One Small Step seems to have the most fun, creating a whistle and percussion pas de deux that comes across as playful pratfalls.  Dotlights‘ aforementioned “A lot has happened” rises from a gentle ambient beginning to blossom into a chill-out track, examining the possibility of peace, even in the midst of a global pandemic.  More electronics emerge from slo-fi, Snackbar the Ambassador and more, reminding listeners of all they have lost and regained.  The apartment is no longer the only dance floor.  Jong and Abzolut‘s “Ernst” is a pure invitation to the club, UGLYDUB‘s “Test Run” a blast of tempo and distortion.  Toxic Chicken (so many chickens, so little time!) bounces like agitated atoms, a cool IDM breeze at its back.  And Homosampliens‘ cheerful “Little Things I Like” serves as evidence that the pandemic didn’t take everything away, but did readjust our focus.

Due to the diversity of the compilation, there’s likely something for everybody, while it would be surprising if anyone loved everything.  But it’s hard not to fall in love with the breadth of human emotion on display here, culminating in the wild 40-second blast of “Te Gekke Dingen Doen In De Zon.”  While the compilation casts a wide net, it contains a loose trajectory, from drone to dance, improvisation to composition, lockdown to emergence.  The best news of all: the artists are now performing live again.  (Richard Allen)

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