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Lessons Richard Fontenoy , October 19th, 2017 11:42

Celebrating ten years of a great independent label, with eclectic explorations from Kemper Norton, Laura Cannell, Leyland Kirby and plenty more.

Front & Follow have already released two notable compilations during their first decade: Long Division With Remainders' Collision / Detection, which collated four EPs from their intriguing project of the same name, and the Outer Church collection of artists associated with the genre-defying club night of the same name. The label has also delved into collaborative cassette album releases, pairing artists of various backgrounds together, to great effect.

Now they’re celebrating 10 years, and 50 releases, with Lessons - 24 artists and 25 tracks representing the Front & Follow roster across two discs of carefully curated music that, if it had to be classified at all, could be described as adventurous, rather than focussing on any specific genre. This has been the label's great strength over the years: doing things that seem to make some kind of sense at the time and largely being proven right - or at the very least interesting - along the way.

As with the preceding 49 releases from F&F, there's hardly a dull moment or an iota of filler on Lessons. It's like being given the best kind of mixtape, one that prompts further discovery while retaining that sense of wonder. While the album admirably exhibits Front & Follow's eclecticism, it does so with a seemingly effortless simplicity that relies neither on juxtapositions made for their own sake nor diverging too wildly from an overall worldview.

There's plenty of variation to be found: Yonokiero make their resolutely lo-fi jangles swoon the way that Plankton stalwarts Scaredycat might once have done; there's wonky rural musings from Farmer Glitch, Leyland Kirby's smeared sound palette veers into almost nauseous processed wooziness; and Hoofus's more obviously electronic style permits disjointed rhythms to emerge, reconfiguring its deracinated self into strange, near-propulsive dimensions.

West Norwood Cassette Library's plunderphonic introduction to the collection feels like the off-kilter sensation of encountering Nurse With Wound at their most ominously silly, while stirring wheezes and whirs from The Doomed Bird Of Providence and BLK W/ Bear keep things both resonant and melancholic. The latter tinkle the ivories while ticking away the minutes, but then there's Ekoplekz in quirky somnolent mode and TVO's luscious slow-motion interpretation of a Laura Cannell piece to warm the soul too. Cannell's own swooping heartstrings call to mind both Bohemian avantgardist Aranos and Popol Vuh's soundtracks for Werner Herzog in tingling ascents and descents. 'Plough Monday' uncoils in fervid energy, brushing away the cobwebs of the centuries while evoking both paramnesiac folk dreams of dusty barn dances and the cycling of the seasons.

Every piece is previously unreleased, and each contributor gets just one track, except for BLK in various collaborative guises – the BLK TAG contribution being a particularly fine long-form swoon capable of stopping time in its tracks. The more conventional moments can be found in the twangy modulations and noise-speckled grooves from Sone Institute that compare and contrast with Elite Barbarian's mournful loping boom-or-bust rhythms, stretching repetition until it threatens the speakers' integrity, while Graham Reznick delivers his almost jarring drum machine grooves with insouciant disco aplomb that jacks up the bass while spinning into ecstatic vocoded dimensions.

There's yet more reverb-drenched spookiness from the reel-to-reeling fluctuations of Howlround, whose eeriness quotient here is superbly vibrant and redolent, magnetic tape spooling endlessly into outer space on waves of glorious multi-timbral feedback that devours itself in thunderously looped applause. Likewise, IX Tab lifts off on a spaceship built from echoes and sonorously stretched orchestrations. Here, Saxon Roach's love of found spoken words and the esoteric outer reaches that heavy use of vocal processing can engender uncoils with a lithe sense that something angelic is lurking in the shadows, muttering in Enochian and unveiling the ways to and from some lovely secret domain.

It's left to haunted folk legend Kemper Norton to conclude the album proper in a conceptual move that sums up the Front & follow ethos neatly, sampling ten of the label's releases to create a shimmering wall of exultant, celebratory brightness. And for those with deep pockets, 'Stannum' is also available as a lathe-cut vinyl edition of ten for a mere ten grand asking price. Extreme-level collectors can gorge themselves squabbling over that in the hereafter; for the rest, Lessons will do fine just as it is.

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