Various Artists
Delivery Room

By Alastair Dant

 
Delivery Room is the latest in a series of low-cost samplers from our friends at Leaf and boss man Tony Morley seems keen for us to explore all the branches of his roster. Like Osmosis before it, this album contains a wide-ranging statement of sonic intent for pocket money pricing. As an extra incentive, much of the material is either yet to be released or exclusive to this CD.

Leaf's desire to balance organic and synthetic sources creeps through from the offset. Pick Up Sticks represents an unexpected (but thoroughly intriguing) collaboration between Bill Wells, Stefan Schneider and Annie Whitehead. Improvised against a backdrop of delicate wooden machinery, Schneider's slithering electronics and Whitehead's supple trombone come across like the JBs jamming in a knitting factory. Things progress nicely with the Sutekh mix of Murcof's Memoria. A twisting, electronic groove weaves around wisps of half-heard orchestration whilst glitch and chatter seethe beneath. Maybe it's the compulsive rhythm, maybe it's the Black Dog feel, but something about this track pushes all the right buttons...

Not surprisingly, the label that brought us Invisible Soundtracks has a keen ear for drama. There's real suspense underlying the orchestral manoeuvres in the semi-dark of Murcof's Una and – although it isn't the best thing on her distinctive debut – Colleen's Ritournelle crackles with the haunting ambience of dusty 78s, folding back on itself again and again like a needle stuck in timeworn grooves. At times, however, the music sounds spectacularly complex. Icarus seem to reach new frontiers of audio manipulation. Essen portrays a solitary piano figure stretched and probed at the hands of robotic captors, whilst an ever-evolving world of micro-sonic detail opens up around the photek-style drum arrangements of Gnog.

Lest things start to seem too sober, some moments of playfulness intrude to break the tension. Asa-Chang and Junray merge YMO game noise with trumpet and percussion to create a village idiot's anthem in Parlor, whilst the loopy fun of Riow Arai's Eclipse puts p-funk on the operating table with the deft cuts and splices that only a digital scalpel can muster. It's worth pointing out that the astutely chosen running order also encompasses some familiar landmarks. I'm still smitten by the psychedelic swirl of Manitoba's Crayon despite its appearance in phone adverts. What is it about the naive charm of glockenspiels, eh?

This album offers some enthralling hybrids of real and imaginary instrumentation. The diversity of the artists involved ensures a broad range of approaches and outcomes. However, although there's something for everyone, there might also be something for everyone to skip. In my case, I must admit that indie producer Rob Ellis' turn at the piano leaves me cold. The importance of Satie and Debussy is undeniable, but do we really need to continue to emulate them? Of course, such grievances do not detract from the overall value of this compilation – given the ceaseless tide of new music out there, buoyancy aids are always appreciated.
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