Arc Lab: No Spectre

Tobias Lilja: Time is on My Side

subtractiveLAD: No Man's Land

All released on the same day, this latest trio of n5MD releases reveals the breadth of the label's offerings, from the arctic drones of Tobias Lilja to the emotive electronic compositions of subtractiveLAD.

Lilja's second full-length is the most distinctive of the three releases, largely due to the prominent inclusion of the Swedish composer's vocals. By opening the album with a grandiose vocal drone, Lilja establishes the ethereal and provocative ambiance of Time Is On My Side immediately; thankfully, too, his singing, delivered in a multi-tracked style that suggests a less affected David Sylvian, strengthens his material rather than diminishes it. Instrumentally, he's no slouch either as the steamrolling haze that churns beneath the desperate, sometimes distorted singing in “Time, Oh Time” and the fulminating beat patterns that drive “Beginner's Optimism” make clear. Lilja often gravitates towards the more harrowing end of the sonic spectrum where electronic blizzards swirl, a tendency which generates a compelling tension between the cool control of the vocal chants and the portentous blur of the musical accompaniment. The contradictions play out forcefully in “Blood Tracer” where Lilja juxtaposes entrancing vocal calm and angelic choral passages with an epic doomsday lurch. Many of the album's pieces are meditations, with “A Settlement of Dust” particularly exotic in its incorporation of Eastern-styled sounds. It's long at seventy minutes and slightly overplays the vocal drones card, but calling Time Is On My Side remarkable isn't an overstatement.

The opening pieces on Vancouverite Stephen Hummel's third subtractiveLAD release suggest that No Man's Land won't depart too dramatically from his first two outings, 2005's Giving Up The Ghost and 2006's Suture. But, from the fifth piece onwards, that impression changes, especially when transcendent tracks like “All Ways” and “Meditation 17” appear. Though Hummel broadens out the subtractiveLAD sound with well-timed insertions of guitar, vocal texture, and field elements, it's not the expanded sonic resources that account for the album's impact but its emotive explorations of vulnerability and introspection. The drums stumble rather convulsively in “Synthetism” but, aside from that, Hummel's material unfurls gracefully and, with one piece flowing into the next, the album becomes a warm travelogue of shifting moods and colours. On the one hand, there's undulating swirls of silken shimmer and incandescent guitar peals (“Bring to Light”) and, on the other, epics that grow from prayerful calm to shoegaze intensity (“The Shell,” “No Man's Land”). On the whole, though, Hummel emphasizes elegant quietude, whether it's a slow-moving outro of placidity (“The Lucky Ones”) or a rare, unadorned spotlight for piano during the intro of “The Sun in Your Eyes.”

Though Medard Fischer's Arc Lab outing No Spectre is, on the one hand, perhaps the most representative n5MD release of the three, it's also, interestingly, the one that aligns itself most directly to a kindred label, specifically Miami-based Merck. The album's opening piece, “I'm All Vectors,” builds sparkling melodies into a dense field of electronic colour that recalls Arovane while the whirring beats unspool in a manner that recalls Merck mainstays Proswell, Deceptikon, and Proem (the latter also records for n5MD). Throughout No Spectre, contrasts of various types emerge that typically enhance the disc's melodic dimension with intricate weaves of glistening melodies and underpins them with smoothly rippling beat patterns. Moods range between “Natch,” whose bucolic, sing-song vibe is bolstered by subtly funky hip-hop beats, to the more melancholy “The Past!” where simulated harp plucks duet with female vocals amidst synth flourishes. Song titles like “Miss Wet T-Shirt Vancouver 2006” keep things earthbound, as does the crackle of decayed vinyl that ends the song—a stark contrast to the nine celestial minutes of pretty sparkle that floats through “All Parallels.” Natural elements emerge too, specifically Svitlana's soft vocals in “The Several Song” and a child's voice that recounts a ghost story during “Spectres.”

April 2007