Various Artists

Touch 25 Comp

(Touch; 2006)

By Mark Abraham | 30 June 2006

When Touch turns 25, what can we expect but to have our psychoanalytic phantasms shuffle off their mortal coil? This is the label that has brought us Fennesz, Rehberg, Jóhannsson, Ikeda, Jeck and others, and the singular message of all of these artists is simple: our dreams might eat us. The label is working out its quarter-life crisis in grand style; if its artists have always been forward looking, here the concept is that each is creating a piece that attempts to encapsulate their vision of what music will be like 25 years from now. If we still have glaciers in 2031 (and the melting erosion of the tundra is only one way to describe what this compilation sounds like) I don’t know if any of these will be our new summer jam (although I’d love to hear Beyoncé cooing over Rehberg’s “TT 1205” ricochets), but let’s face it: Touch’s vision of music has never been one voiced by the people.

I talk about populist intentions a lot; it’s much harder to make a broad-appeal case for a label that houses someone like Jeck, since his music sounds roughly like a melting pile of vinyl caught on tape (and “Kindquarters” is no different here). He finds beauty in that ethic, and he does so in line with (or perhaps leading) the main focus of Touch music: find those moments of emotion in the liminal and subliminal spaces we rarely think about. Which isn’t always dark necessarily, but on this record it mostly is and therefore the compositions here seem far less pleasant than albums like Jóhannsson’s Englabörn or Fennesz’s Venice. Jóhannsson, who normally manages to throw all sorts of popish elements into his string fantasies, goes evil here; his zombie-sonata “Tu Non Mi Perderai Mai” sounds like cello strings being peeled apart, and leaves Mark Van Hoen’s “Put My Trust in You” as the comp’s most melodic track (“Midnight Cowboy” without the western romance).

Rosy Parlane’s bubbling field recording opus “Atlantis” is more the median; it closes the album, but the fizzing synths encapsulate the albums meandering story by carving the unified Touch-sanctioned body of melody and dissonance right down the middle. On one side is Rehberg, BJ Nilsen’s aleatoric waves, Oren Ambarchi’s subterranean bass excursion, Chris Watson’s insane noise collages (never heard him before, and, wow!), Pan Sonic’s spazzed effects patches, Ryoji Ikeda’s rumbling slowcore glitch-hop (yes—this is now a genre), and Jeck. On the other is Mother Tongue’s “Rewording” (which, when pared with Rehberg, is like the political spectrum of drums), Fennesz, Jóhannsson, Jacob Kirkegaard’s haunting drones, Tanja Orning and Hild Sofie Tafjord’s grueling-yet-temperate live performance, Rafael Toral’s piercing melodies, Bruce Gilbert’s spoken-word guitar duet, Van Hoen, and Biosphere’s cat calls. But they don’t reach across the divide without touching; they’re playing red rover trying to break through one another, trying to get somewhere else.

I think there’s a certain political bent to the work here; divorced from their conceptual albums and simply asked to state affairs, the darker mood of many of these tracks seems to suggest a call for change. Musically, however, I suspect this comp is more for diehard fans of the label than it is meant to sample their wares for the curious. This stuff is dark, and often grating, and while Touch 25 shows some of the most capable and creative artists being dark and grating in implicit concert with one another, I suspect those unfamiliar might do better to start with Venice or Englabörn. Otherwise, welcome to the future. Touch is an incredibly important label, and this is an incredibly important document. If only all tactile sensations were this charged.