Time for praise
Here’s a miscellany of things to like about Astral Industries:
The concept. Just one kind of music – discerning ambient electronic. Full stop. Sophisticated without being in any way elitist, and it is very obvious that there is a lot of love for both the music and the artists.
The artists. It’s easy to pick out the big names and line them up and say look, great label – but that would be a little too easy. Astral Industries mix it up well between larger and smaller giants – Deepchord, Voigt and Monolake here, Chi, J.Derwort and Humble Bee there. What unites them all is not just the genre itself but the deep dedication to this kind of music.
The love. It seems obvious that this is one of the keys to the success of the label. It’s what brings artists to AI that aren’t necessarily known to be prolific in their publishing routines. It’s what enables them to bring back recordings that have been released some time back in tiny numbers on equally tiny labels. I am not sure if Craig Tattersall a.k.a. The Humble Bee was really looking for a way to re-release this album – but when Astral Industries call, guys like him will at least listen to their proposal.
The art. Theo Ellsworth is another reason to like Astral Industries. After doing cover art for a few other artists and labels (among them the illustration for Flying Lotus’ 2010 EP “Pattern+Grid World”) AI were able to convince him to take care of all art for the label. His unique style of illustration is a big part of the Astral Industries story, and even though his art is very clearly defined and specific he is able to come up with a new spin on it for every new cover – with The Humble Bee’s album being number 24 already. Colorful with a fine mix of the abstract and the natural, of space and earth, always using something he sees in the artist’s work as an inspiration for his drawings. No wonder his art prints sell as well as the AI releases.
The stories. All of these wonderful things lead to great stories for every album released. How they brought back Chi’s “Original Recordings” 30 years after its initial release. How they got Deepchord to bring their ambient works to AI. How they released Jacobus Derwort’s “Bamboo Music” the year he passed away. And just now how they convinced Craig Tattersall to add his “A Miscellany For The Quiet Hours” to the catalogue 12 years after he released it on his own fine label, Cotton Goods.
This album. I must admit – whenever Astral Industries announces a new album I buy it. No questions asked. And sometimes I am not even fast enough to get it before it’s sold out. Number 23 for example. Monolake. Didn’t pay attention for a few days and it was gone. But I did get up early enough to secure one of the miscellanies.
True to the label’s heritage, the album is constructed entirely of tape loops. What is more or less new to Astral Industries is Tattersall’s more playful patchwork style, assembling small artful niches of sound experiences where other artists on AI fill much wider screens with aural expanses. Yes, we are still firmly located in the world of ambient music – and at the same time these moments keep surfacing when we think that this is what could have been the result if Four Tet had turned towards ambient after “Rounds” and given it a slightly lo-fi twist.
“With Answers” is a nice example of this, a wonderfully serene piece that assembles soft static noise, distorted and edited melodies that might come from something like a zither, some reverbs and sounds in reverse adding body and mood. Like most other tracks on this album it strikes a fine balance between music for contemplation and music for listening.
There is a lot of warmth and care in these ten compositions, and as much as some may call the mood pastoral, I am much more inclined to imagine a small cabin somewhere with lots of curious little objects that make peculiar noises, a sound experimenter’s magic hut for experimentation, play and happiness.
Some tracks will even make you feel like you are witnessing the collection and assembly process, like “Inspiration For An Old Book”, carefully starting with a few sounds and sequences and then, almost hesitantly, adding things to the track that takes shape while you listen to it. With the sounds wavering, jumping and slightly stuttering, the whole thing sometimes sounds as if it was mechanical, the song a beautiful little machine with a small crank to let things move and make noises, not always creating steady rhythms, mechanical inaccuracies that create a very special aural charm.
“A Miscellany For The Quiet Hours” is by far the most playful album Astral Industries has given us, and it’s a really pretty little gem. Definitely for the quiet hours. Somewhere in a little cozy hut. On a nice fall or winter day. Looking at nothing in particular, thinking of nothing in particular. Sipping something not too hot, needing nothing but the moment.
Release for review:
THE HUMBLE BEE – A MISCELLANY FOR THE QUIET HOURS – ASTRAL INDUSTRIES – AI-24