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V/A - Vertical Forms

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Artist: V/A

Album: Vertical Forms

Label: Vertical Form

Review date: Apr. 1, 2002

Possibly both the best and worst thing about electronic music is the behind-the-scenes democracy that keeps it running. The sudden popular explosion in the mid-90s of the Internet (and the ensuing availability of pirated software) made it possible for practically anyone who could point-and-click to make music. This lead to the emergence of a few musical whiz kids who made fresh sounds but also heaps and heaps (and heaps) of utter garbage. Squarepusher, mu-Ziq and Boards of Canada succeeded wildly in their pursuit of the perfect beat but their roads to uniqueness have and always will be littered with the bodies of Lamb, Coil and other generic cut 'n pasters.

So here were are some years later and the UK's Vertical Forms label has offered up a new 10-track compilation disc entitled, daringly, Vertical Forms. There is the usual wheat and chaff here but this compilation should serve to satisfy. Moving surprisingly smoothly from down-tempo ambient to nerve shaking neo-drum and bass and then somewhere in between, Vertical Forms leaves no hertz range untouched.

The mid- and highlights in chronological order: Isan's short but sweet "Dirno, Nanno, Keel," a neat-o, breezy piece that doesn't build towards anything in particular, nor should it. Things get very rocking on Funkstörung's "Lolita," a chugging electro-locomotive on top of hornet's nest fuzzing about in the background. Be sure to listen to this one with headphones, lest you miss the delicious ear-tingling stereoscopic effect that appears once in a while. Also, stay tuned for the drop step at the end of each section. San Francisco's Kid606 plays havoc with aural space on his last remix of "Whereweleftoff," part of his "P.S. I Love You" project. It's all here, excellent use of stereo effects and an intriguing mixture of minute clicks and beeps and longer, more drawn out notes. I could barely keep my eyes straight trying to keep track of where each flake of sound was coming from. People who know Kid606 only from his infamous remix of "Straight Outta Compton" might re-think their opinion of him after hearing this track. Smyglyssna's "Hintergedanke" combines deep (and we're talking below the point where sound is a note and into the area where it's a series of clicks) bass with a nervous, expectant keyboard loops and lofty, quiet strings as a backdrop. You could polish wood floors with this one if you put your speakers face down. If you know any kids who go to Burning Man on any regular basis, be sure to introduce them to "Quinss" by Bola, a heavy track with a tribal beat that just won't quit. Add a siren flourish there and enough chatter to keep you thinking and Bola comes up with a winner. To keep it from sounding overdone is the almost tongue-in-cheek "chant" part, a heavily filtered female voice that emerges about halfway through and carries "Quinss" to a satisfying finish. The track that made me most wonder what the hell it was doing on the compilation was Iceland's Mum, on the last track "Hufeland" because it's potent enough to make you want to forget everything else you've heard, or just not care about the rest. I'd imagine it is nearly impossible to listen to this track without conjuring up some significant memory. "Hufeland" is playful and childlike, but never sentimental, with its music box cues and simple chord progressions in a pleasant Something-major key. The genius is the transition coming at the what-you-think-is-the-end. Shifting from slightly melancholy to something a little brighter, the whole mood of the track changes subtlety. I still can't figure out what happened at the fake-end-part. Did Mum reverse or increase the tempo of the main theme or both? Whatever happened, it's delightful.

Aside from the supremely annoying "Luftikuss" that Thomas Fehlmann subjects the listener to for a full-on 6'04" (think of being stuck in Earth Mother Gaea's echo chamber for that length of time), and a couple of other blandish tracks, Vertical Forms is a solid, purchase-worthy compilation. This won't knock you out with hit after hit but it will make you think about the next turn(s) that electronic music will take a turn in the future.

By Noah Zimmerman

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