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VARIOUS ARTISTS - Spectrum double cassette (Cruel Nature)

The Cruel Nature tape label celebrates its tenth anniversary with this impressively packaged compilation, comprising two cassettes with full colour on-body art print, and fold-out booklet and slipcase with matching artwork. The title refers to both the broad spectrum of music covered by the label and the autism spectrum; label founder Steve Strode's son, who is the same age as the label, is autistic, and proceeds from the album are going to the Toby Henderson Trust, a charity in North East England which supports autistic youth and adults and their families and caregivers. Cruel Nature have already donated £700 to the charity through sales of the compilation since its release in April 2023.

The music here covers a wide area though everything is united by a distinctly non-mainstream sound and ethos. Dark, heavy and experimental musics are well represented here, though the label is just as keen on the more adventurous sides of folk and pop. GW Lang's long-running project St James Infirmary is best known to indiepop fans for the split flexi with The Sunflowers on Woosh and the Angelkagool EP on Lust Recordings. There have been many more releases from this band since then, the music becoming more eclectic and off-centre. The song here is quirky bedroom pop with electronically processed vocals set to analogue synth experimentation. Entitled Something for You after the message on Royal Mail's undelivered parcel notification cards, the song tells the story of getting a parcel redelivered which turns out to be a box of tapes from Cruel Nature. An excellent tribute to this label, and a fitting track to open the album.

Aidan Baker appears with a cinematic instrumental based around tenor sax and percussion, in which a folk-tinged melody is underlined by a droning backdrop and improvisational drums and cymbals. Nathalie Stern makes dark ethereal minimalism with whispered and softly chanted vocals. There's the beautifully atmospheric folk-pop of Clara Engel, and the bizarre, discordant, improvisational art music of Katie Gerardine O'Neill. Holy Island provide early REM-inspired songwriting set to noisepop with a psychedelic touch. Kitchen Cynics have been a perennial favourite over the last 30 years, and Maybe is the kind of eerie psych-folk this band excels at. Gvantsa Narim envelops the listener in an ethereal haze of gently swelling drones and subtle atmospheric melody.

David Colohan's contribution is situated somewhere between soundtrack music and post-rock, with a hypnotically repeating melody shrouded in a glorious shimmering mist. Salisman and his Celestial Beings merge American noise-rock with heady, intense psychedelia. Mirrored Lips provide some off-kilter lo-fi minimalism with a melancholic edge. On the heavier side, you'll find the likes of the one-woman black metal band Petrine Cross, the hammering electronic percussion, drones and sharp glitchy noise of Whirling Hall of Knives, and Omnibadger with their grinding industrial noise chaos and bursts of vocal fury. The album can be bought on double tape or downloaded at cruelnaturerecordings.bandcamp.com


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