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V/A - 2010

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Artist: V/A

Album: 2010

Label: Dial

Review date: Mar. 22, 2010

Dial is a label that needs time to work its magic. The Berlin imprintís founder, Peter Kersten, is the architect of its sound, producing records under monikers like Lawrence and Sten. His 2008 release The Essence is as melancholic as its cover art implies, and as obscure. With time, however, its details emerge. Itís a humbling moment when you return to a record like that after months of ignoring it and find a level of detail entirely absent on the first sweep. Part of this has to do with what the labelís made of: as Lawrenceís contribution to this label comp., "Treacle Mine" points out, Dial artists often dip into the measured piano chord progressions and steady beat of Chicago house while receding into ambience. It can be difficult to tell at first take whether 2010 is a compilation holding pattern or something that needs a pre-quaff barrel ageing.

Dial has also shown, with full-lengths like Christian Naujoksí Untitled and Pantha du Princeís This Bliss, that Kerstenís sound is the baseline and not the labelís upper limit. Although the two releases named might be some of Dialís most divergent, both concern themselves with how music can do funny things to time, or at least our perception of it. These artists take their time to make a point, one that seems to concern memory, longing, and other unresolved states. 2010 might be consistent to a fault; it can make time dilate but also strays close to the line separating a dreary consistency from an exciting one. Music grows even when you ignore it ó this seems like a music criticís uncertainty principle. The imperative to suture meanings is always faced with meaningís own entropy. Things might only seem to coalesce in a particular frame of reference, but that frame and the experience it tries to capture are equally ephemeral. At this point, 2010 is never unpleasant, but itís rarely remarkable unto distraction.

There are bigger considerations here about whether the whiff of stagnation on this record is a symptom of a larger dance-music malaise. Considering how much of music writing can seemingly be made up of repeating press release factoids or positioning yr argument in a broader discussion, itís one that can be shelved for a moment, if only to postpone the inevitable. The cost of admission for dance music is, after all, boredom ó this seems like a point almost too obvious to make. Of course, monotony and repetition serve a very obvious function when youíre actually trying to dance, giving you time to jump back on top of the beat and repeat some eight count you screwed up or just kind of get your sway on. Dialís reputation rests on being in the middle space between home listening and club music; Dialís premise is a risk, even if the sounds that emerge from it can seem safe. Glum and downtrodden, the 4/4 beatís purpose here is, as always, to orient. To hear it pulse throughout this compilation, you might also think it was a grid on which little sonic artifacts were pinned like butterflies. Some of those sounds include change falling out of pockets, delay sneaking out from the bassline to warp the whole track before retreating, and transitory, unintelligible voices.

Though the details are most often applied with clinical precision, the keystone for all this music is emotion. In particular, the kind of emotion that emerges from spending a long time with something, as well as the more immediate recognition that comes from, say, a nostalgic melody. All the ideas here are worked out in grayscale, a drabness that can resolve into richness as often as it can remain inert. Isolťeís carnival-esque Twin Peaks polka "Black Lodge" does the former thing, while Pantha du Prince turns in a surprisingly unmemorable "Fountain Drive."

The most interesting thing about this compilation are its first and last tracks, torchy songs by Phantom/Ghost and Dominique. Itís common practice to at least end mixes on a more songy note, but this compilationís severity is buffered by decadence on both sides, in a kind of reverse-Oreo setup. If it isnít clear already, Dial isnít a label that thrives on interesting alone. Itíll take some time to figure out if this compilation meets the high standards the label established with other releases; itís laying low for the time being.

By Brandon Bussolini

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