Various Artists

Until Human Voices Wake Us and We Drown Box

(Rune Grammofon; 2006)

By Mark Abraham | 7 July 2006

I’m gonna go so far as to declare Rune Grammofon one of the most important labels we have today, and, like the Touch retrospective I covered last week, the only caveat with that assertion is…look, it’s not about how difficult the music is, because it’s pretentious to act as if people who don’t like “difficult” music just “don’t get it.” That said, Until Human Voices Wake Us and We Drown contains a lot of music that drowns me (physically, emotionally, spiritually, whatever). I’m writing from the fringe, on the fringe, about the fringe, and this is glorious, envelope-shredding, nasty, pretty, horrific, cuddly, conflicted music that I want to drown in. On the other hand, many people I’ve played it for have found it too loud, too quiet, too grating, too uninteresting, too whatever. This comp is like a world geography lesson, and everything is a middle ground where somebody feels uncomfortable. But those middle grounds—those borders, where things intersect on peripheries—are sometimes the finest laboratories, and so yeah, it’s difficult, but it’s also simple: forge ahead, deconstruct those boundaries, and find the truth through exploring the fringes of music.

That last is exactly what makes RG capital “I” important. There’s an almost unnatural synergy between artists and label; the artists are constantly pushing forward, ignoring trends while anticipating new ones, avoiding copying themselves on successive albums, and RG, in allowing that to happen, in foregrounding its commitment to Norwegian artists, has allowed a local scene to develop into one of the most exciting and diverse experimental playgrounds we have. Experimentation is not in itself a marker of quality, but it might explain why I’m making such a big deal out of a 5 LP limited-to-one-thousand-copies company-retrospective box-set with a list price of $84.98 (USD) that contains a bunch of music that many people will find “too” a-whole-bunch-of-things and a different group of people may or may not already own. Here’s my “whatever”: nineteen songs, nineteen artists, nineteen kicks in the teeth. RLP 2050LP is absolutely glorious.

There’s the fantastic design by Kim Hiorthøy, to begin with. This thing could front a Martha Stewart-approved living room, all cuddly with the surface of your coffee table, its warm colors and finish picking up stray sunrays as they enter the room. It smells like a library when you crack it open; all sorts of dusty secrets spill from this Norwegian Arc. Each slab of vinyl has it’s own painting that relates to the cover; each LP is themed, pairing old artists with new, rather than attempting to make a chronological argument, until nineteen tracks work together to expose new arcs and languages in the RG history. Some of this music is eight years old, but presented lovingly like this it sounds more than vital—it’s a skydive without a parachute, or having a nuclear bomb explode in your chest: heart-wrenching.

That this is such a beautiful, artistic object without even setting the needle on your player speaks to the drive and motivation behind RG. So does this: despite the warnings clearly posted directly on the label’s website that I stupidly didn’t pay attention to that told me not to contact the label, but rather its North American distributor (Foreign Exposure), Rune Kristofferson still wrote me himself to approve our use of the MoHa! track for our podcast