It was a hellish ride with a storybook ending.
Such was the unfolding of a weekend trip to Seattle almost two years ago. The occasion was the 10th anniversary concert of the Seattle based (formerly Texas based) label Elevator Bath, managed by Colin Andrew Sheffield. The concert, commemorating the decade-old label featured outstanding performances from the likes of Jim Haynes, Matt Shoemaker, Dale Lloyd, Adam Pacione, and Rick Reed. Sheffield also arranged the compilation a cleansing ascension, featuring the artists mentioned above along with a number of other talented names. It is an impressive arrangement that seemed to re-instill a number of people's faith in the very idea of compilations.
Various Artists a cleansing ascension (2008)
Mr. Sheffield was kind enough to send me Signatures, his debut full-length from last year. It was the first available release from the mysterious Invisible Birds label run by Diane Granahan and Matthew Swiezynski, spawning from the idea of "tiny feathered workers motionlessly charting immensity." I missed out on the initial limited edition deluxe art-box release of Signatures, which, judging by the images looked stunning; the music within, equally so.
From early starts as a drummer, Sheffield eventually became interested in electronic music, and later refined the scope of his practice to the distilling, blurring, and expanding of existing musical material to form new works of smeared "plunderphonic audio collage," as written in his bio. In 1998 he formed Elevator Bath, and to date, the label has over 40 releases from some of the finest sound sculptors out there.
Colin Andrew Sheffield Signatures (Invisible Birds, 2009)
Picture Disc Series
Jim Haynes Eraldus/Eravaldus
Rick Reed dreamz/blue polz
Dale Lloyd Akasha_For Record
Adam Pacione Dobranoc
The picture disc series is in my opinion the highlight of this highlight. They are incredible to look at, and all of them are packaged in a thick, clear plastic sleeve that leaves barely anything between you and the glorious art. And thus, the most important thing, the music imbedded within these colorful planks of wax is always a pleasure. Here is an older review of mine about the Haynes and Reed albums:
Eraldus starts things of with a static current that slowly builds and eventually sounds like a helicopter crash landing into a giant cavern, then seamlessly gives way to pressurized drones covered in years of dust, debris and melted wax. Eravaldus begins in similar territory but is an overall more abrasive affair. Amplified space and agitated atmospheres ring out over corroded landscapes, a black hole of sound, swallowing everything in proximity. From start to finish this record is an exploration of space and time and it's relation to sounds, patiently transitioning from one sonic environment to the next. These are the sounds of mountains eroding away and (malleable) shorelines dissolving into the oceans, only sped up so we can listen to our Earth crumbling before our eyes. I am beginning to love the idea of decay; I tend to go about my day with the idea lodged in the back of my mind. Jim has really taken it to the next level, embodying the idea in his art and life and now in this spectacular record.
Dreamz (2007) starts off with a muted electronic clatter that is quickly taken over by a dense tone, everything wrapped in what could be short-wave radio static. The track then undergoes a series of fluctuations and swells, leaving the static behind and churning onward as a multi-faceted (sine?) wave of pure synth flatline drone eventually mutating into a sinister crawl. At about the 16 minute mark the track takes a rapid shift as Reed introduces a Fennesz/Hecker-like pixelated synth loop, so dreamy and hypnotic that it could stretch over a whole side of vinyl and I probably wouldn't tire of it. The flip, Blue Polz begins with a much more glitch electronica feel, sonar pulses pepper the opening 3 minutes giving way to more of that dark ambient synth drone that Reed handles so well. A slow throbbing pulse eventually takes over maintaining itself for the duration, so slow and methodical reminding me of early Mirror, and anything even remotely close to the Mirror sound is worth getting excited over. Impressive stuff.
This is the first album to emerge from Dale Lloyd in a number of years. If his intentions were to build anticipation amongst the dedicated drone nuts then subsequently unleash a masterpiece, I would say he has succeeded. Akasha For Record may just be his masterpiece, evident in the punctuated transitions between vast expanses of grainy ambience and segments of well situated field recordings. The record almost feels like a compilation of well respected drone artists, because of the variations in sound, though at the same time remaining very cohesive. Lovely image, and likewise, lovely sounds.
Lopez Island, Machines 2cd
Now available as a "bundle" set, Lopez Island and Machines together amount to over 200 minutes of sound. It's a lot to digest if you've only ever briefly heard a track or two from Lopez's extensive backlog of albums. The hundred or so releases can seem a bit intimidating at first, but you'll be truly rewarded after finally making the brave decision to take the head-first plunge into Mr. Lopez's tactile sound world. The release of Lopez Island dates back to 2007, where Lopez visited said island and managed to capture an array of sonic activity ranging from churning and whirling mechanized electrical devices to crackling fires and wildlife. The opening moments reveal layers of a burning fire, each one expertly introduced on a precise snap of a twig, or fizzle of an ember. From here the 50 minute piece unfolds into many miniature sound worlds, eventually yielding pulsating industrial rhythms and fissures from unknown sources. Quite remarkable and a very good starting point for the unfamiliar, as I was.
Though similar to Lopez Island, Machines is, to an extent an entirely different beast. From the four long tracks spanning these two discs we hear Lopez actualizing his finely chiseled compositional techniques; a sort of fluctuated kinetic acceleration comes to mind as if Lopez's arrangements are derived from him tossing his recorded fragments into a particle accelerator and then slightly tweaking the product. Each piece is focused around a particular set of source recording material: clocks, metronomes, elevators, and factories. The lopsided rhythms of the clocks and metronomes can be a bit disorienting and don't amount to the calibre of recording that Lopez is capable of. The other tracks, however, make up for the initial misstep. Still very recommended.
Other select Elevator Bath discography-
Adam Pacione Dobranoc LP Picture Disc (029)
Rick Reed Dark Skies At Noon (025)
Colin Andrew Sheffield First Thus (020)
Ilya Monosov Vinyl Document #1 LP (010)
Havergal Trash 10" (002)
Special Thanks to Colin Andrew Sheffield
Keep in the loop with this label as there seem to be many promising albums on the horizon.