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Reissue Of The Week

Reissue Of The Week: Elsewhere VXIII
Neil Kulkarni , September 15th, 2022 23:53

Though this ravishing compilation of rhythms, drones and folk tales draws lines across myriad cultures, Neil Kulkarni hears in it a sense of glorious confusion rather than straightforward commonality. This record is not reassuring, he says, but revolutionary

The sleeve of this astonishing compilation, the latest instalment of cross-label compilations put together by Brussels-based cratedigger DJ soFa, is a tellingly hopeful statement of intent. It features a globe of stick-figures, walking together, melding together, which I guess is supposed to work as a reflection of how this suite of outernational rhythms, drones and folk tales brings together a myriad of cultures of folkloric traditions, and attempts to map their common ground.

Although I can give the nod to the sleeve, however, I’m not going to look at it while I listen to Elsewhere VXIII because it’s at total variance with what happens to me when I hear this remarkable record. I don’t feel the ‘commonality’ of this music, I don’t get a cosy sense of communion or conviviality from it. It’s too startling, too ravishing a comp for that - certainly if, like me, you don’t know the languages these tracks are sung in, or have any idea what any of the lyrics mean, you will still feel the humanity of this music, the yearning, the terror and the love. It is actually the alien-ness, the difference, the structural and sonic weirdness that I feel needs focussing on, because it’s that which bewitches you as soon as the needle drops on it. Crucially, what I don’t get from this compilation is a sense of performers purely rooted in their native cultures, or in any nationalistic way trying to recreate a lost integral past in their music. What I get is a fragile global linkage of sheer sui generis oddity.

It has been impossibly difficult, ever since Jon Hassell introduced the ideas around ‘Fourth World Music’, to encounter sounds from ‘elsewhere’ without the condescension of Western (European or American) thinking about ‘that’ music. Musicians from outside of the traditional loci of Western sound are seemingly cast as being unable to do anything but opaquely ‘reflect’ their background and roots. I would argue, in 2022, that it’s precisely not those people rooted in a static or steady tradition tied to place who we should be listening to - rather it’s those liminal artists existing between worlds, both geographic and temporal, who are most closely mapping out our current confusions and desires. DJ soFa’s intent here may have been to forge connections, but what I find utterly compelling about this compilation is how as a travelogue it’s scattered, diffuse, gloriously confusing. If there is connection here, it’s connecting with those disconnected, both from us and each other. In our broken world, nothing could feel more right, nothing could be less ‘healing’ and more miraculously eye-opening. Elsewhere VXIII is a wonder, not a comfort, properly unsettling to your established musical consciousness, as close as you might get in 2022 to overthrowing those categories of cultural othering that are so difficult to step out of in the West.

The album starts with Aida Al Hani’s spellbinding ‘Kafeja Gati’, a broken Balkan/Albanian ballad in which Hani explores every possible curlicue her astonishing vocal presence can inhabit - going from lyrical plaintiveness to a wordless, guttural rotation of syllables, the language splintering into glossolalia as a single, close acoustic guitar stays on one chord. What is implied by starting the compilation in this way is a certain stealth in soFa’s selection process, a confidence that means he doesn’t need to start the mix with all guns blazing, rather an opener so intriguing it lures you into a hypnotic state, the sound pulling you in as you become increasingly unable to look back at where you were, only able to be drawn forward into these remote soundworlds.

Colinde Netemperate’s ‘Din Patru Cornuri De Lume’ which follows, comes from a stunning collection of re-rendered traditional Romanian Christmas songs, originally self-released in 2011, then gratifyingly uncovered by Greek label Thirsty Leaves in 2017. Maria Balabas’ translucently gorgeous voice is joined by kalimba and peripheral drones that swim to the centre of the mix, a song you feel that could have been sung at any point in the past 2,000 years, but with electronic textures that would still resonate 2,000 years hence. Again, you’re amazed by soFa’s restraint, and you realise you are now locked in on a journey that will startle you with its care and detail - Tempo Venus & Ox3’s ‘Y’ is immensely redolent of the stunning recent Mahgreban and Saint Abdullah albums (also the criminally overlooked ‘Ima ایما’ by Tegh & Adel Poursamadi), Persian Golha recalled in Tempo Venus’ voice and the thrumming sitar licks, the backbeat a pure post punk dreadscape of creepy querulous bass and echoey space. Pedro Castanheira and Caroline Oulman’s ‘A Saia Da Carolina’ keeps things tense, on the brink, avant de deluge, before the first mind melting highlight upturns your senses - NÂR feat. June As’ astonishing ‘Baba Mimoun’. A ticking pulse of shuffle-beats and thrumming guitar, an implacable sky-sized drone layered and building, and my god, June As’ voice peeling and refracting away from that drone in utterly ravishing multi-layered waves of sheer longing. Again, you are stunned that soFa has held this back for four tracks but my god you’re glad he has, because Elsewhere VXII’ isn’t something to just ‘dip into’ or cherry-pick for your own playlists, it’s in the best tradition of compilations and mixes that need to be experienced front to back for the full psychically unhinging effect.

Seamlessly, Ugne & Maria’s ‘Apie Lubas’ slithers into your consciousness, Birutė Kapustinskaitė’s Lithuanian poetry melded in at varying speeds, shards of feedback and dubbed-out trails of texture stranding you in an unknowable, wonderfully unfamiliar soundscape. Key throughout the music here is that it’s not just a reflection of external environment but always deeply immersed in an inner psychological panorama that though multilingual is innately and immediately moving and understandable. This is unsettled, unsettling music - dig the Deep Medi-style doomy dankness of ladr.ache’s ‘A Mi Fiasco’ and the fragile shattered introspection of Vica Pacheco’s skin-puckering ‘El Fuego’, tracks from opposite ends of the world but that run together here beautifully, the latter opening up the final, perhaps most stunning suite of the compilation.

Light seems to enter the dark lugubrious world of Elsewhere VXIII on gorgeously delicate tracks by PRAAH, Anna Vs June and Nyati Mayi before Swiss duo Cyril Cyril provide the last highlight on the beautifully strung-out ‘Mariid’ - desert-pop scorched bone-dry, hollowed out, skeletal vocals echoplexed over a bizarre combination of math rock dynamics and Houndstooth-style dubstep. You’re left by Elsewhere VXIII not jetlagged, not smug about owning this eclectic collection - rather plunged into a true feeling of nomadic rootlessness and confusion. This is the feeling this amazing collection gives you and that’s why it should be recommended not as reassuring, but as revolutionary to all the categories and hierarchies you may have been taught about sound in the west. A launchpad certainly but an external and internal journey that works as one of the most devastating suites of sound you’ll hear in 2022. Get yourself overthrown by it as soon as you can.

Elsewhere VXIII is out now digitally and on vinyl via Rocket Recordings