V/A, Blue Skied An' Clear
The Berlin-based Morr Music record label is a haven for artists who like pop music but don't want to be pop stars. The work by the label's key artists--Hermann & Kleine, ISAN, Phonem, Lali Puna, Manual, and B. Fleischmann--is as accessible as anything in the electronic music world. So why aren't these artists more widely known? Well, for all of the great hooks, amazing beats, and beautiful melodies you'll find on any Morr Music release, there are an equal number of melancholy, atmospheric, droning sounds, sounds that aren't quite as "poppy" and, in fact, are reminiscent of the "shoegazer" music that was so popular in the UK back in the late 80s and early 90s. In other words, the artists here could easily craft pop songs with the best of them, but they choose, like those droning guitar bands a decade ago, to stick pop elements into songs that otherwise reject the simplistic, formulaic conventions of pop music.
It shouldn't come as much of a surprise, then, that the Morr Music artists (and the label's founder, Thomas Morr) would be admirers of shoegazer bands like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive. So, to celebrate Morr's thirtieth release, the label decided to put out a two-disk set. The first disk consists entirely of Slowdive covers performed by the label's core performers, and the second disk consists of upcoming material. Together, these 28 songs represents some of the best music Morr has ever put out, and some of the finest, most enjoyable electronic music you're likely to hear anywhere.
The first disk, the Slowdive covers, is fantastic music. It's amazing how different guitar-based music sounds when dominated (for the most part) by samplers, synths, and effects processors. My favorite track is ISAN's "Waves," not only because I'm a huge ISAN fan but because the track is so different from the group's recent output. The track sounds like an ocean wave: the synthesizer sounds and drum beats are distorted to match the sampled sound of ocean waves, while the melancholy vocals bubble around the music like patches of sandy foam. ISAN manage to retain the emotional core of Slowdive's original track while redesigning its sound to better adhere to what ISAN does best. That should be the goal of any artists who covers another artist's songs, but how often do you hear a cover that actually accomplishes this feat? Well, on this disk, just about every song manages this. Some of the true standout tracks include Future 3's "Alison," Lali Puna's "40 Days," and Ulrich Schnauss' "Crazy for You." However, each of these fourteen songs is an interesting listen.
While the music on the second disk is a bit more representative of the "typical" Morr Music output, it is by no means less enjoyable than the first disk. Some of the songs, especially Manual's "Summer Haze" and Guitar's "House Full of Time," are damn exciting, and I'm looking forward to the upcoming releases by these artists. Other songs, like ISAN's "My Last Journey (Weather Balloon)" and Herrmann & Kleine's "Leaving You Behind (Without Knowing Where to Go)," sound a little too much like these artists' previous output, but, since that output is so strong, the music is worth hearing, even if it is a little familiar.
In all, Blue Skied An' Clear is an impressive compilation. The fact that the new, original material on the second disk equals the wonderful music on the first disk leaves me hopeful, even a bit confident, that the label's next 30 releases will equal or match the high-quality of its first 30.
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