Album review

Various : Switches
Audiobulb Records

Various : SwitchesMusical experimentation is a dodgy territory to stray on to sometimes. Unless the end result has some positive point, the whole thing can quite easily end up sounding like it was made by a bunch of kids set free in a kitchen - and before you say anything, if as an artiste, this is your concept, you really ought to get out more because there is a big difference between what is music and creation, and just random noise.
    So what is this latest sampler from Audiobulb - creation or noise? Well, it is the incarnation of the label's philosophy centred on "embracing uncertainty, flexibility and creative risk taking." If that sounds more than a little pretentious, don't you think it is a better way of approaching art than 'maximising profitability through creative control of commercially viable product'? You can't dance to these 14 'soundscapes' (a cliché, but it works). I doubt if any of the contributors will shift many units. You certainly won't hear them on commercial radio. But what you can do is listen and allow your thoughts to wander in and out of the worlds they suggest. True this is not for everyone - many people are not comfortable with their own thoughts - but for those that do allow themselves the pleasure of drifting in time and space, in short, this album works a treat.

By and large the tracks are instrumental, the occasional human voice being a carefully selected sampled sound rather than anything bespoke to the piece. Organic instruments mix harmoniously with the predominant electronics. Beats come and go, mirroring the peaks and troughs of the beloved sine wave. The mood swings between the positive and the positively dark, but all the while the unexpected lurks. Not that there are any sudden volleys of sound to break the low-key feel, but as with most experimental efforts, you never really know what you've got until it has passed. For this reason, a feeling of slight tension exists within the album, not enough to destroy the more relaxing, alpha-wave moments, but it lurks nonetheless.
    There are hints of Aphex Twin, Boards Of Canada, Autechre - you know the kind of territory - at the most easily digestible points. But then there are strange and beautiful moments too. Stripped down, minimalist sounds vie with dislocated voices, while riveting silences create something from nothing. A less discerning listener might argue that it never really gets going, but that misses the point. It's another cliché, but less is more sometimes. And this album has next to nothing at certain points. Can you handle that?

It's up to you how you deal with this sort music of course. You could just as easily reject it as pointless electronic bimbling as cite it as a work of art. Whatever you do, it seems Audiobulb have worked hard to locate some of the more esoteric creative talents out there, and they must be applauded for their bravery in putting this stuff out.

:: Tom Alford

Go to top of page
Latest articles

Alone in the dark: Buffy The Vampire Slayer bows out in style with the Season Seven DVD Collection.

Johnny Knoxville plays him in the movie Grand Theft Parsons, but counterculture speaks to the man himself: Phil Kaufman interviewed.