There’s buckets of finely congealed empathy here, beautifully presented. Front And Follow is an unusual, old-fashioned label, not quite made for these times. And thank God for that.
This box set is a collection of 9 EPs from a host of incredible artists, all working within the confines of some strange call & response routine* which sees invited artists submit audio clips into a central pot, which is then distributed around the group for them to do with as they see fit. At least, that’s what this box set is supposed to be. In another reality this is Front and Follow’s collective phantasy, an arc of triumph. This is the illusion of a series of collected EPs, an illusion so pervasive/persuasive that even the artists and the label think that it’s true.
But this is a collaboration in more ways than one. This is a packaged ideal, a little bit of ideology. These artists don’t sound particularly similar and most of them don’t know each other but they are kin and this box set is a series of statements around a common belief in music per se.
I’m listening to this on shuffle, which isn’t really the right way** – I think there’s an awful lot more thought put into the sequencing than I’m allowing – but it has elicited a theme that might be hidden if these songs are taken as they were intended. Listened to in this way, there are some ugly transitions where The Lord keeps head-butting in, reminding me of the effect that Foetus had on Industrial compilations from the 80s* but even that seems somehow part of the kinship. They are friendly non-familiars. They are rubbing against each other to create sparks.
Sone Institute pops up in a kind of Carpenter-guise; like an axe has split an old 80s horror soundtrack's skull down the middle, and only slightly stretched apart the plates
This set ought to lie alongside ‘mythical’ (for many of the pre-CD reissue years) compilations like the Elephant Table album. It is era defining, even at a time when we’re beset with endless micro-genres and expected to simply accept that post-modernism has won and the grand narrative drives of music are gone, or have been subverted, or popularised. Well, bollocks. This shows that there is something bigger than the artists; there is still a functioning system of reason out there, people do still care about being in opposition.
Some of these artists dabble with song-forms (Kemper Norton pulls apart folk music, The Doomed Bird Of Providence tries to soundtrack a dying soldier’s lament for the Balkans****), some of them drift beautifully, like Zoviet France or something (Isnaj Dui, Blk Tag, Psychological Strategy Board), some of them even spin off into almost ‘Big’ Beat(s) (West Norwood Cassette Library stomps all over the place in exactly the right way) but really this album is a collective, a kind of multi-voiced howl of despair against stagnation. Even the methodology behind the choice of sounds is communist and utopian. The label sets their stall perfectly; I’ve got a bunch of MP3s and PDFs but I think I need the artefact as much as anything. So do you. This is exactly what we need right now: attention to detail, to For. Beauty regarded as a value. This shows real solidity in amongst the ruins of the (so-called) www-crushed music industry.
Front and Follow need to be here. These artists are necessary and more or less sufficient. This album will be one that people will talk about. At the very least the cynical among you have an opportunity to buy your future bragging rights now, before they are gone forever.
*this is the first symptom, an old route which seems to be returning. This is the scene and setting of this compilation, the framework that acts like a Dali crutch. You have to listen quite hard to hear this mechanism (it doesn't creak) but you can feel it.
**I feel just about okay doing this with this album; as a collaboration / compilation there ought to be alternative routes through the jungle but... I'm even annoying myself how much I'm reviewing via walking and listening, uploading three or four albums at a time sometimes into a playlist and then letting Shuffle speculate. I'm trying to stop this, especially since a lot of people I know spend a lot of effort sequencing things, only for monkeys like me to load and discard. Certainly, the IX Tab album was very considered in terms of the order since I wanted it to be an album rather than a collection of my least worse bits.
***I mean, of course, that often Foetus tracks (and to a lesser extent NWW) appeared like unholy cows, butting their way into the fold, working bad seams in finely woven tapestries of sound. I like the earnest, believed-in sound of their contempories but it was also wonderful at times (and supremely psychedelic) to puncture the moment with Batman themes or fairground music or odd Nurses laughing...
****that description doesn't do it justice; the odd thing about this is that this urfolk isn't ur at all, this is a pure approach; this sounds like its been recorded (beautifully) in situ, there's very little obvious processing... but yet it fits perfectly with all these monstrous machines.