Marc Hollander’s Crammed label is variously described as “one of the most boldly eclectic independent labels around”, “innovative and groundbreaking” and “visionary”.
A quick genre map, for this composers’ retrospective, might give you some insight into why they might say those things. We’ve got ambient, electronica, minimalism, experimental avant-rock, soundscape creation, non-Western and “much more”.
And here’s a couple of their mission statements: the appealing “pathologically averse to pigeon-holing” and, via Georges Braque, the tasty “A lemon beside an orange is no longer a lemon, the orange no longer an orange; they have become fruit. Mathematicians follow this law. So do we.”
So. I guess we should be expecting some curious, purposeful, adventurous stuff then.
This retrospective has been released as part of Crammed’s 40 year (!) anniversary celebrations. Originally released in 1984 it includes works commissioned as soundtracks for dance & theatre performances, films, and a fashion show. It features 4 of Crammed’s shiniest treasures: Minimal Compact, Benjamin Lew, Aksak Maboul & Tuxedomoon.
The first four tracks come from Israel’s Minimal Compact’s “Pieces for Nothing” suite. “Bat-Yam” is a tight, funky, slowish, middle-eastern blessed, moodpiece. Layers build its brewing presence as the Belew-lite guitar chugs, chords and arpeggios, adding a sweet post-new wave touch. “Too Many Of Them” highlight’s Malka Spigel’s tormented, quavering voice over an edgy bassline and primitive synth drum. “Immer Vorbei” is a mechanically oom-pah-pah, tik-tok plodder with evocative, sensual violin and an Ozzy vs Wyatt vs Lydon weaving vocal. “Animal Killers” is an intense, electronic avant-rock trudger with a dramatically-lit spoken word and deliciously nagging keyboard lines.
“À La Recherche De B.” is the only Benjamin Lew track: an ambient soundscape of echoes, knocks and symphonic swells which passes much too quickly. Aksak Mabou’s turntablist “Scratch Holiday” minimally loops with woozy-making pads and static-noise-crackling, spinning vinyl jumps.
“Un chien mérite une mort de chien” was Aksak Maboul’s soundtrack for Michel Gheude’s eponymous theatre play, which revolves around the life of Russian writers Vladimir Mayakovsky, Ossip Brik, Lili Brik, Velimir Khlebnikov and the Russian Futurist movement. It’s 6 pieces running at roughly 15 minutes starting with “Odessa”s sinuous majesty of stately percussion and a most regal of riffs. 4 solo piano pieces follow: hypnotic and agitated then sombre and reflective then prancing and pixieish then strutting and formal. “Mort de Velimir” closes the suite with a darkly harmonious riff that barely pivots and pedals.
No waver’s Tuxedomoon wrap up the retrospective with three tracks from “Verdun”, the soundtrack for Dutch filmmaker Bob Visser’s movie about the famous WW1 battlefield. “Fanfare” is a portentous synthy herald; dark, romantic and lavish. “No One Expects The Spanish Inquisition” is menacing, marching, drubbing. Simple but intense. “Driving To Verdun” is angular and futuristic, optimistic synth motifs waltzing upon gambolling synth patterns.
So, obviously, this is not a party album. It is not folks getting down and getting brown in the sunshine. It’s correctly, artistically earnest and imparts remarkably detailed, evocative literary and visual experiences. Its often deceptively simple, post-punk delivery doubles down hard on mood and storytelling. Riffs and motifs repeat and repeat and repeat again to ensure you ‘get it’, bludgeoning you with the romance and feels. The result is a wonderfully cohesive album which is much more than just a collection of lemons and oranges. It is a vibrantly colorful bowl of tantalizingly piquant, not-pigeon-holed, homogeneous musical fruit. And it’s delicious.