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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
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The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
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Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Various Artists
Touch 25

Rating: 8/10 ?

August 11, 2006
Few labels can boast a lifespan as extensive as that of London's Touch, but the fact that the label has existed on the very fringes of conventionality through 25 years of new romanticism, Britpop, grunge and the million and one brief fads of the musical world marks its most remarkable feat. Touch has been a forward-thinking label since day one, and if its designs for the immediate future cut edges to the magnitude of its pioneers of the early 80s, our children will have a mighty treat in store for them.

Although Touch 25's purpose is to mark 25 years of Touch, it doesn't delve much into the label's history: there is no mention of early Hafler Trio recordings or the cassette magazines of the 80s, and there is no Touch discography in the liner notes. Instead, the CD compiles a collection of unreleased tracks from the label's contemporary starlets: the likes of Fennesz, Biosphere, Ryoji Ikeda and Philip Jeck. Granted, one of Chris Watson's recordings dates back to November 1980, but its nature is timeless to the point that it reveals very little about Touch's roots.

BJ Nilsen opens the floodgate with a two-minute recording of strong winds and crashing waves, which he captured on an island off the coast of his native Sweden. It makes for a dramatic setting and presents a useful insight to the sound exploration synonymous with recent Touch projects. Chris Watson continues this pattern further towards the middle of the compilation with recordings of bustling dredgers and the din of urban activity surrounding a railway line in Mexico. Biosphere's contrasting recordings of howling wolves in the Arctic Circle sees Touch at its most haunting field-recording-wise.

In balance, Touch's exploration of low-end drones commences with Oren Ambarchi's "Moving Violation," a monotonous low frequency guitar track lined with sporadic rumbles and slight changes in pitch. Pan Sonic's track, "Slovakian Rauta," is equally weighty and perhaps more destructive. Drenched in distortion, it collides and collapses about itself before climaxing and disappearing into a tunnel of reverberating room tones.

Touch 25's most inviting tracks are left to Fennesz and Mark Van Hoen, who both reside towards the most accessible end of Touch's spectrum. Fennesz presents "Tree," a glistening, stripped-down guitar track laced with hazy static and with processed vibes shimmering in the distance. Van Hoen's "Put My Trust in You" incorporates pianos, strings and percussion in a relatively straightforward manner. Although it's not the most breathtaking track on Touch 25, it adds cohesion and provides some light relief, which, in the midst of the flickering electronics and muffled field recordings, is a nice touch.

It would only be appropriate for Touch, one of the most consistently challenging labels of recent decades, to release a consistently challenging anniversary compilation, so it follows that Touch 25 may not be the most logical gateway to the label's repertoire. Once Fennesz's masterpiece album Venice, and Biosphere's ambient classic Substrata have been truly comprehended, Touch 25 may present an insightful introduction to the murkier elements of the label, but until then, Touch 25 will, for the most part, remain an artefact for Touch's existing fans. One thing's for sure: if Touch's modern day artists are as forward-thinking as history would suggest, Touch 50 will blow the mind.

Reviewed by Mike Wright
A staff writer based in London, England, Mike Wright is eternally troubled by the American bastardization of the English language.

See other reviews by Mike Wright



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