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SILBER RECORDS

SILBER RECORDS continues to put out an impressive collection of music, which is diverse but with a thread of commonality running through which is based around a sense of experimentation. From sound sculpture to experimental jazz to inventive bedroom pop; if it's challenging, intelligent and outside the norm, you can bet you can find it on Silber.

Following Jamie Barnes' highly impressive debut album The Fallen Acrobat (reviewed in last issue's Silber article) comes the new one, Honey from the Ribcage, which is just as high-quality. Barnes makes bedroom pop, but with far more sophistication than is normally associated with that genre. Extremely well-written songs are accompanied by a whole host of adventurous instruments such as banjo, glockenspiel, ocarina, melodica, sitar, tablas and music box, alongside the more usual guitar. Part indiepop, part country, part atmospheric sound manipulation, part classic songwriting that transcends genre, and shot through with an engaging sense of melancholy and strong creativity, I recommend this album to all music lovers.

Rollerball's 11th album (their 3rd for Silber) is entitled Catholic Paws/Catholic Pause, and is excellently packaged in an embossed/screen printed cardboard sleeve. The eclecticism expected of Rollerball is present here, from the arcane experimentalism of Quench, to the absolutely brilliant jazz-pop-rock of Erzulie, to the jazz-ambient of So This Is That?, to the demonic yowling and sinister sound manipulation of Mantis Segue, as well as a number of tracks that bridge the gap between song-based and experimental, such as the quirky and manically delivered lyrics of Sores, set to a combination of jazz and homemade experimental weirdness. Rollerball's more abstract and random moments are a bit too much for these ears, but at their best and most tuneful, they are truly great. Tracks like Erzulie, Tambien and End of Young Birds are especially fantastic and are a return to the greatness found on their Real Hair album.

I'm not familiar with the early works of Remora, but they apparently dealt in sound/noise based material with more of an emphasis on atmospheric effect than melody. These days Remora have moved towards a song-based sound, incorporating their early experiences in sound manipulation into their songwriting. Their album Enamored is largely based around tracks which effectively combine lo-fi melancholic indiepop and atmospheric post-rock/spacerock soundscaping. There is also instrumental material here; tracks such as Sorry, Beams and Knockout combine melodic riffs with atmospheric swathes of sound, whilst True Glory is more pure noise based, and Arena bridges the gap between melody and chaotic noise. Champion takes a break from noise and effects, stripping everything down to sparse guitar and voice, to hark back to the sombre side of early 90s indiepop.

Tara Vanflower is best known for her work with darkwave band Lycia (of which more in a moment), but is also a solo artist in her own right. Her second solo album My Little Fire Filled Heart, is out now on Silber. Don't be misled by its pink flowery cover, this music is as far away from twee as you can get. The brief introductory track Ligertily consists of atmospheric echoey vocals played backwards, but this ethereal mood is soon replaced by a dark, sinister brand of experimentation which subsequently pervades the rest of the album. Yaya has a mix of spoken and sung vocals, the sung part largely sticking to one note, over the top of some menacing experimental noise. Rabbit features an almost syrupy vocal style and playful la-la-las, masking the dark lyrical content. The instrumental backing to this song is simply minimal percussion with an industrial feel. Naked King features punchy percussion and shouty vocals alongside random guitar noodling. In Silverback, a strange, sensual poem is read over a backdrop of metallic clanging and ghostly murmuring. The Girl From The Green Dimension is a melodic song of great beauty, in which Tara sings duet with herself. Again the instrumentation is not music in any conventional sense of the word, but a combination of single-note droning and the metallic sound of wind chimes. A Rusted Nail Through The Wrist features some electronic percussion that is strongly experimental whilst still retaining a sense of rhythm. Heavy rain, rumbling thunder and the tinkling sound of a music box provide the backdrop to Wren, a song that is in fact melodic but unconventionally so, thus giving the illusion of atonality. Finally there is Tigerlily, which as the name suggests is Ligertily played forwards. A highly artistic, creative album, though one that would probably be hard to stomach by anyone unaccustomed to music this unconventional.

As well as releasing solo albums by Lycia's Mike VanPortfleet and Tara Vanflower, Silber have also put out Lycia's final unfinished album Empty Space, and are now reissuing all five of Lycia's previous studio albums. A remastered version of Estrella is out now on Silber, accompanied by the artwork the band had originally intended for the album. This album combines the darkness of gothic music, the grandiosity of orchestral-oriented progressive rock (there is no real orchestra on here, but it just has that feel about it with its lushly textured and extravagant atmosphere), the ethereal nature of dreampop, and ambient washes of sound. All this is added to with a variety of vocal styles from both band members, from sombre murmurings to impassioned wails. The vocals are used to express words and to provide wordless vocalisations, using the voice like another instrument. The sound here is more musical, less overtly experimental than Tara and Mike's solo material, but is still loaded with creativity. Whether Lycia opt for an elegant atmospheric sound or one that's more menacing, the music is always engaging.

Norwegian experimental collective Kobi have released their second album Dronesyndrome through Silber. This comprises a mixture of drones and improvisation made with real instruments and electronically processed sounds. I'm normally someone who shies away from improvisational and non-melodic music, but I find that if this kind of experimentation is made by genuinely talented and creative artists (as this is), is atmospheric enough to be absorbing and engaging (as this is) and has ideas that differ from the usual experimental/drone/improv cliches (as this does), then all these ingredients actually make for an interesting listen. If you're looking for melodic music, this is not the place to be looking (except for those rare occasions such as in The Evening Was Unusually Sultry and Heavy, where a guitar melody is concealed within a whirl of noise), but for a well crafted piece of aural art with interesting ideas, look no further.

If Thousands' I Have Nothing is a collection of experimental soundscapes and improvisational pieces. Although there are a few straightforward drone pieces like Providence and Eventide, there are also a number of tracks that go way beyond the norm of this genre, and the album is pleasantly devoid of incoherent noodling, showing that improvisation can indeed be put to good use. Push is a far cry from average experimental music, incorporating sounds that nod towards traditional Indian music and early country music. Cymbol incorporates windchime-like sounds into spacey ambient soundscaping. Walking Otis is a relaxing ambient piece with birdsong sound effects. Caterwaul is not the raucous noise the name suggests but an unusual mix of almost new-agey ambient relaxation music and a melodic guitar piece with a bluesy twang. Trout is an original mix of Middle Eastern style music and experimental sound effects. Crispin Glover is an excellent melodic keyboard and xylophone piece. Stella and Me is another example of ingenious eclecticism, comprising a bluegrass-influenced banjo melody and atmospheric synth or perhaps processed melodica. In a time when 'experimental' is just another cliche, used as shorthand for a kind of music that has ceased to be experimental as it's been done so many times before, If Thousands really can lay claim to the term. This album is a true experiment, combining various genres to create something that sounds fresh and new.

More info on Silber at www.silbermedia.com

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Text Kim Harten, 2006.