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Better Late Than Never… The Reverb Worship Compilation Noel Gardner , July 3rd, 2015 12:04

Run by a fellow in Berkshire named Roger Linney, Reverb Worship Records feels a bit like a label out of time. Not just because of the music it releases – deep listening, dark summonings and occasional sparks of pop-eyed cheer at the nexus of folk and the avant garde – but its whole approach. Beginning in late 2007, there have now been almost 300 Reverb Worship releases, (which is what, one every nine days or so?) all but a tiny few on CDr, as is this 150-minute, double-disc compilation. Its title refers to Linney's embarrassment at taking two years to complete the project, as if he had been sitting idle during that time rather than releasing about three dozen other things.

As I say, this sort of ferocious profligacy in underground music has eased off a bit in recent years, thanks partly to the CDr format falling out of fashion. In this regard, Reverb Worship is doubly anachronistic. (Luke Younger, aka Helm, a one-time CDr acolyte, tartly summed it up recently: "I still have a box full of this crap at my parents' house which I need to deal with.") More power, though, to Linney's unfashionable (perhaps corduroy-patched) elbow, especially as his releases tend to come in attractive, careful packaging – a green card sleeve with woodcut artwork, in this case.

Better Late Than Never…, for what it's worth, induced healthy nostalgia in me – harking back to the part of the last decade when I was buying things unheard from the (great, now defunct) Boa Melody Bar distro and attempting to enter rabbitholes via Voice Of The Seven Woods, Sunburned Hand Of The Man, Josephine Foster and so forth. Reverb Worship didn't especially stand out to me at the time, on account of there being oodles of these micro-imprints, but a look at its discography reveals names who've gone on to relatively bigger things: Gnod, Expo 70 and Motion Sickness Of Time Travel for three. None of those feature among the 28 exclusive tracks here; I think, without it being explicitly stated, that this comp is for artists who've maintained close ties and/or a friendship with the label. These things are important, even in a scene where it's easy to release an album by someone in the course of a few email exchanges.

The decision to begin Better… with its two most disposable moments is somewhat baffling. Both cover versions, Howling Larsons' take on Pink Floyd's 'Matilda Mother' is passable, but there's no excuse for Brighton folkies Foxpockets and their twee bludgeoning of 'Psycho Killer'. Mercifully, eight minutes of cello-weighted free-psych disassociation from Primordial Undermind – a loosely American project of 25 years standing, currently based in Austria – smokes the cobwebs away. The presence of Mark Stevenson, a folk singer from Herefordshire, on 'The Scythe' is noteworthy, insofar as he's from the actual, unadulterated UK folk scene rather than an indie, psych or gothic appropriation of it. The fiddles, flutes and intense stringed drones with which Heed The Thunder back him up retain varying levels of tradness.

Certainly, though, if Reverb Worship weren't fixing jump leads to the folk formula, much of their raison d'etre would be lost. Results vary, but mostly in a good way. On the indie side of things, Michael Warren is a so-so bedsit strummer with an oddly Damon Albarn-esque voice; the completely mysterious Paradise Dance Hall offer agreeable twangy slowcore. Neofolk, that most inscrutable and (occasionally) most politically distasteful of the folk subgenres, is represented here by The Hare And The Moon – 'The Rolling Of The Stones' is textbook crystal-voiced, flaxen-haired eeriness – and Germany's Solitude Ravencrow, who are as heroically ludicrous as their name and deeply enjoyable for all their samples of wolf howls and sharpening swords. Zeuk, a goth-edged project from south Wales, exist outside this scene but bear an aesthetic resemblance; 'Pale Gold Sun' features guest vocalist Luci Vernon, who appears to sing the line "spiders sliding from my tongue".

Better Late Than Never… doesn't obviously betray a signature Reverb Worship sound, but for my money, its best moments are the ones which use (a love of) folk music as a springboard to ascension. David CW Briggs, who's also a member of the sterling, underrated post-hardcore band Cove, progresses from poetic Jansch-like chord patterns to plumes of feedback. Spanish solo guitarist Borealis hums and whirrs with an enveloping bleakness which recalls Roy Montgomery's Temple V LP, and is possibly the revelation of both discs, for me. David Colohan, a stalwart of the Irish experimental/drone underground, appears twice at the rump of CD2: solo project Raising Holy Sparks, whose 'Apparitions Of Black Fires' delivers stirring spacerock magick, and as part of United Bible Studies, joined here by Alison O'Donnell, ex of 70s folk cultists Mellow Candle. Singing over little more than a harmonium and minimal bell-like percussion, 'Grand Gestures' – ones which, Alison says, "lead to tragedy and occasionally triumph," could plausibly be spun into a metaphor for this album as a whole. It may, though, be easier to settle for just calling it a dead lush number on which to finish.

For the record, I'm encountering nearly all the acts on Better Late Than Never… for the first time. I also realise this tends to be a gauche statement in a review context, but would like to think that in this case, it complements the questing spirit that seems to pervade its many crannies. Roger Linney deserves praise for, seemingly, never being knocked off the path he's chosen for Reverb Worship; perhaps being in the vicinity of fashion on occasion, by chance, but pursuing an ideal with zeal, no matter the consequences.

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