American Noise

One of the biggest surprises of 2012 was how quickly the wider electronic community embraced and pushed forward the work of Ron Morelli and his scallywag L.I.E.S label. It quickly grew so rampant as to make it to number one on Resident Advisor’s ‘labels of 2012’ list, despite only a solitary appearance (#49 in the top 50 tracks) in any of their more specific rundowns. This nebulous acclaim seemed to encapsulate the general feeling towards the label: oft tipped as excellent and influential, but a little hazy when it came to the detail, in part perhaps due to a packed release schedule that saw one or two records arriving a month throughout 2012, with UK prices marked up via import charges.

Still, it seems a somewhat surprising response, considering how consistent and brilliant the music itself has been. The effect seems to have been brought about by Morelli’s uncanny ability to consistently unearth new artists, then release their music in a manner that quashes the usual journalistic cycle – pre-release hype followed by post-release appraisal – that many have become accustomed to. After all, it’s pretty hard to work up anticipation to fever pitch when you know bugger all about the artist and their work (or even who the label’s next 12" is likely to come from).

Instead the focus has been more on ‘connecting the dots’: looking at the overall narrative of a label based very much around Morelli’s intuitive feel for music that fits. That’s a common trait L.I.E.S shares with several other much-fêted record labels such as PAN and Blackest Ever Black, whose popularity indicates an audience looking to engage with labels that present a coherent and carefully curated aesthetic (all three have an eye for artists who share a common language to their own.) The beauty of L.I.E.S in particular is in its variety, and the amorphous common ground it still manages to share despite the radical differences between individual artists. Often connected geographically via the label’s New York base, or as close friends with Morelli himself, there’s a certain community spirit to the endeavour.

American Noise, L.I.E.S’ first compilation released on double-CD at the end of a jam-packed 2012, shows off this associated diversity perfectly. To connect the humid synth builds of Steve Moore and the rough ‘record in one take’ industrial march of Vapauteen with any kind of flow seems a difficult task to take on, but the first CD here lays them out alongside many label highlights, rarities and out-of-print tracks in perfect spectrum – an elegant sweep from lush to crush in just under an hour and a half.

Bolting straight out of the gate with the compilation’s most experimental and ‘non-dancefloor’ cut – Jahiliyya Fields’ ‘Servant Garden’ – is a bold and particularly brilliant move, its coruscating synths and Middle Eastern flourishes confounding any initial expectation. Things move luxuriously through to the cinematic landscapes of Steve Moore, Legowelt’s idiosyncratic techno on ‘Sark Island Acid’ and gradually onward and downward into Terekke’s dreamlike house. Bookworms’ ridiculously infectious, percussion driven ‘African Rhythms’ is a highlight: its release back in May, on a grubby white label with a pizza stamped on it, was a pivotal moment for L.I.E.S at a time when greater interest in the label was just beginning to surge. Two Dogs In A House and Svengalisghost flex physical jack workouts more closely aligned to the classic house formula (though the latter’s ‘Deep Into Memory’ is sort of… lopsided, like it’s sporting a flat tyre), and are indicative of Morelli’s deep love for the genre.

So for those who’ve only just come round to the label, been put off by the breadth of work on offer in such a short space of time, or simply baulked at the price of keeping up, this first CD provides an ideal starting point, setting out the full depth and range of the label’s short but colourful history. Those obsessive types who have followed L.I.E.S for a while but missed out on one or two bits are well served too.

The real treat for the long-term followers, though, sits awaiting attention on disc two, a treasure trove of previously unheard tracks and chance to hear new material from a selection of the most prolific (is it even possible to conceive Danny ‘Legowelt’ Wolfers taking a month off?) and cult producers on the label. The work of Torn Hawk had previously failed to stir too much of my interest; the whole 90s degraded VHS re-appropriation thing felt a little played out by now, buggered to oblivion by James Ferraro. But opening gambit ‘This Is Crime & Lace’ makes great strides at repairing the rift – huge sideswipes of noise pan across its relatively steady pulse, as though the whole thing is being sawn in half. Bonquiqui (AKA Sheela Rahman, Xosar) appears solo with ‘Sansovtime’, the cheap Casio stylings relegated to the back of the funk this time, whilst her sometime partner in crime Legowelt turns up with the opulent ‘Ferns Of Draconis’. A much needed new pearl is offered from Terekke in the form of ‘Asidis’, hypnotic to the last detail and promising great things of a projected LP for the label this year. Svengalisghost hints at an enticing new direction, in an untitled work of chilly synths and more than a hint of plastic vampire fangs.

American Noise is gauged cleverly to cater to several expectations at once: a foot in the past that serves its purpose as an introduction to the world of L.I.E.S and a summary of the label’s output to date, plus a foot in the future, thanks to a second CD bursting with new directions and ideas to be taken forward. A few more glimpses of the adventurous non-dancefloor territory Morelli is so evidently excited by and explores to greater depth in his mixes would have been welcome. Similarly, a couple of the label’s more caustic releases – such as the Two Dogs In A House Eliminator session or either of the Bad News tracks – might have better justified such a vivid (and largely apt) title. But great label compilations that have lasting power reflect upon a certain point in a label’s existence, and often act as the full stop before a new paragraph. Hessle Audio’s 2011 compilation 116 & Rising offered something similar, before its more recent metamorphosis towards a more eclectic outlook. Such a well-crafted and complete compilation as American Noise offers an accessible summary of Morelli and his roster, and suggests a wide open and exciting future.

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