Friday, October 01, 2004

I'm a lucky duck ever since I bumped into my friend Mats so many years ago via this golden wasteland of online communications. We traded mix tapes, wrote long convoluted liner notes for our mix tapes, even worked on a fanzine together for a good six years. Of the many gifts Mats has given me, including a split album by Echo is Your Love and a then unknown Kemialliset Ystävät in 1999, is a glimpse of the joy that comes with taking a part of yourself, and giving it to the world, no matter how meager that contribution may be. That's all art is really--at least the best stuff--people saying "this is me" or "it's what I see" and somehow making that perspective transfer.

What really makes an album, or any portable media for that matter, is a nice package. It's cool to occasionally be reminded that what we accidentally scratch up pressing into CD trays and sliding into album jackets is more than just a CD or record.

One of the first instances in the rock world where the aesthetics of a package matched, arguably surpassed, the aural qualities inside came with Andy Warhol's cover for the first Velvet Underground album. Everyone's seen it by now, a bright yellow banana against all white, the title in block letter across the top. Peeling the yellow strip off of course reveals a brighter pink banana. And somehow the music reflects the image perfectly.

And now it seems packaging is cool again, from the homemade each-one-is-different editions of early self-released Charalambides tapes and CD's on to newer comers in the scene like the handmade releases of Free Porcupine Society, Christoph Heemann's Three Poplars label and Phonometrography's lavish editions of Hafler Trio related works. And there's the constant presence of limited CD-R and lathecut labels now, all dispersed via the net, some more hidden than others. Even the majors are getting in on the fun, issuing typically mundane jewel cases in purty cardboard sleeves, and pre-labeled band-specific CD-R's (for the paying downloader of course).

San Antonio's Idea Records is a small label that likes it dense. Key releases in their catalog, like Tetuzi Akiyama's Don't Forget to Boogie! and Oren Ambarchi's Triste, not only resonate as outwardly thinking avant sound sculpture, they honor a tradition of heavy vinyl, glossy sleeves and unique, eye-popping visual motifs. And don't even get me started on the sound quality of Idea releases. The Akiyami disk a pristine slab of electric blues riffing and experimental noise that sounds just as clean and crisp at 2 as it does at 9. Triste hums and bubbles with rippling guitar strokes, murmurs and gently shifting subharmonics via Ambarchi's hauntingly restrained guitar technique. There's also formidable releases by Mirror, Coh, Tom Recchion (and more), and just arriving on my doorstep, Matt Valentine and Erika Elder.

The duo has released some of the most haunted folk/blues cosmic concoctions of the last five years or so, and Idea recently took it upon themselves to issue a beautiful heavy LP version of Ragas & Blues, previously released on CD-R on Valentine's Children of Microtones label. It's the kind of record that's custom made for long play with nine pieces each serving as alternate windows to some ethnically rich, wholly submersive, alien sound world. Definitely one of MV And EE's finest, most meditative journeys, and now "it's heavy as shit" can refer to more than just the hypnotic power of their mystical string music. It should be noted the excellent Time-Lag Records released MV's Tonight, One Night Only, MV & EE In Heaven as an equally breathtaking package a couple years ago.

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