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V/A - Money Will Ruin Everything

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Artist: V/A

Album: Money Will Ruin Everything

Label: Rune Grammofon

Review date: Apr. 6, 2004

After spending nearly a decade and a half recording and touring as a member of Fra Lippo Lippi (a post-punk/new wave inspired group he co-founded in the late-’70s), Rune Kristoffersen broke away from his pop mold in favor of more experimental electronic leanings. Towards the tail end of the 1990s, while working as a label manager for the revered ECM, he had a somewhat epiphianic experience with the free jazz trio Veslefrekk at the London Jazz Festival. Shortly after this, a chance encounter with Helge Sten revealed that the man (also known as Deathprod) had decided to join forces with Veslefrekk and focus on a new group: Supersilent. At around the same time, Kristoffersen found himself growing increasingly frustrated at the sheer unavailability of the electronic works of one of Norway's most treasured composers, Arne Nordheim. Sensing the moment was ripe with possibilities, Kristoffersen formed Rune Grammofon, issuing Supersilent's triple disc 1-3 and Arne Nordheim's Electric as the label's first two releases. In the six or so years and thirty-some releases since that fateful founding, Rune Grammofon has become known to a small but ever-increasing "group of freaks" as a paragon for fellow labels to follow, featuring quality recordings, outstanding design, and a pristine sense of artistic clarity.

Money Will Ruin Everything, the label's 32nd release, celebrates the achievements racked up over the years, summarizing the vision and the sound of the label neatly over two discs of music and a gorgeous 96-page hardcover book. If you flip through the first few pages of the accompanying book, you may notice in small print, "This book is a record cover." And while it may indeed be viewed as such, this set serves not only to salute the effort and dedication of Kristoffersen, but also the visionary design work of in-house graphics maestro Kim Hiorthoy. Arguably, there have been few other contemporary designers whose work has contributed as fundamentally to the make-up of a label's aesthetic. Hiorthoy's instantly recognizable use of bright colors and broad geometric shapes have also visually established Rune Grammofon on par historically with other companies like Blue Note and 4AD – labels whose designs have achieved the sort of singular quality noticeable from the front door of the record store. His oft-beautiful designs are explored at length throughout the book, exposing just how diverse his talents can be while highlighting a certain uniformity in all of the sleeves of Rune Grammofon releases (namely with the same exact type-setting and fonts being used for each subsequent compact disc).

In terms of the music, the title of the collection serves as a quaint reminder of Kristoffersen’s tireless dedication regardless of its capitalist potential. The two discs could be seen equally as a label sampler and also a sequel to Love Comes Shining Over the Mountains, a compilation issued a couple of years ago that first turned a spotlight on Norway’s distinctly varied soundworlds and artists. Since that time, the amount of creativity and diversity in a curiously nationalistic scene has increased exponentially. While some of the music on the label can be rather harsh and extreme, the surprising thing about Money is just how accessible a lot of these artists can be.

The usual suspects are all gathered here. Supersilent contributes "C-5.1," a track reminiscent of their 6 album, all spacious horn lines and faint drones matched against some of the most rhythmically propulsive drumming the group has ever achieved. Alog's "St. Paul Sessions II" finds the duo exploring the weightless effects of incessant guitar strums and tinkling vibes. "Daddycation,” a number from the quartet Food, explores pensive horn lines that wouldn't be at all out of place in a Miles Davis' fan's collection. Luigi Archetti and Bo Wiget's similarly brooding "Stuck 22" is equally wondrous, stretching supple string lines against high end drones to nice effect. Phonophani’s "Animals" achieves a hypnotic intensity through relatively spare use of clipped, rhythmic tones, while Deathprod's "Deerstalker" is all arctic ambience, retaining the barest traces of melody.

Much of the material on these two discs comes from Norway artists who have yet to record exclusively for Rune Grammofon, but have developed a profile elsewhere, establishing a remarkably comprehensive picture of the country’s best new artists. In addition to his aforementioned design skills, Kim Hiorthoy contributes a live radio performance called "Wait," showcasing his knack for deft programming, naive melodies, and bizarrely evocative found sounds and samples. Jaga Jazzist gives the listener a dose of their electro-acoustic jazz fusion skills with "Two Things," building strong melodies and beats from both computers and traditional instruments alike. Fe-mail, on the other hand (a duo comprised of Maja Ratkje and Hild Sofie Tafjord from SPUNK), present "Jacob's Leketoy," a joyous noise oddity.

There are also a few tracks here from recent additions to the Rune roster. These include Skyphone's sweetly understated electronic pastiche on "Kinamands Chance," as well as the space-age big band ensemble at the hands of Jono El Grande, who turn in the lovely "Tango on the Crest of Reality" from their first full-length. The one who truly steals the show, however, is the magnificent Susanna and the Magical Orchestra. "Believer" is something quite unexpected from this particular catalogue – a haunting torch sung with spare electronic accompaniment. The remaining songs are culled from various points throughout the Rune Grammofon catalogue, giving those who haven't had the fortune of hearing artists like Monolight (Kristoffersen's solo project), Arne Nordheim, Maja Ratkje, or the Scorch Trio a chance to finally do so.

Money Will Ruin Everything is an impressive document for a label whom even the lesser release is always worthy of note. Everything contained herein serves as a testament to the ceaseless determination of group of people who exist not only as artists, but as fans. For the already initiated, there's a wealth of information (including texts from The Wire's Rob Young and Adrian Shaughnessy) and breathtaking graphic work in addition to a few excellent unreleased tracks. For those out there who have yet to explore the depths of Rune Grammofon's tremendous back catalogue, consider this your engraved invitation. The set admirably succeeds in summarizing the label’s first six years. Here's to hoping for at least another six more.

By Michael Crumsho

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