Various Artists - "Fork Ends"
[Audio Dregs,]

Various Artists - "Lib. Fabric Compilation"

Various Artists - "Fairy World II"

Various Artists - "Kung Fu! Reggae vs. The Martial Arts"
[Trojan / Sanctuary,]

Various Artists - "PSF & Alchemy 20th Anniversary Live"
[PSF Records,]

Compilations are a dime a dozen nowadays. What is it exactly that sets this bunch of new compilations apart from the rest? Answer is simple - their choice of quality artists.

First up is "Fork Ends" a compilation made up of some of the best organic-chill-electronic-adventurous artists around at the moment [at least to E*Rock, who compiled this CD]. What are some of the highlights, you ask? We get a nice, deep-chill track from Portland's Nice Nice "Deep # 8" and a drone-inducing "Your Castle's Vaporware" from Nudge [also from Portland].

Another highlight is a skewed [though much too brief] processed guitar solo "Goreng" from Berlin's Guido Mobius, followed by a hunting and a bizarrely attractive "Lala Musica" from Honey & Colleen [which turned out to be a one-off collaboration]. Japanese composer and pianist Kazumasa Hashimoto delights with "Ending (Variation)", where he reminds me that spring has sprung and flowers need to be watered. One of the goofier [in a good way] pieces comes from E*Rock, who laughs at technology with cheap-sounding effects mixed with a skewed beat. I'm not sure where electronic music is heading and I don't care to read into the future, but truth be told, "Fork Ends" is like reading a crystal ball. Who knows, maybe some of these artists will move mountains [musically speaking] in the years to come?

Next up is "lib. Fabric compilation", which oddly enough is a sampler of some of the music Japanese Fabric label has to offer to the music-hungry fans. Its' primary focus is the detailed exploration of the brave, the noisy and the new. Starting off with Italian duo z_e_l_l_e [Maurizio Martusciello and Nicola Catalano] who produce tiny little waves and noises and give us doses that are easily digestible and continuing through to Vinnie Ray, who purposefully gives us music that is slow, deliberate and well-thought out, this compilation has 10 tracks of pure gold. If Toshimaru Nakamura's far-out and brave explorations on "Preset # 01 (nimb# 22)" of his no-input mixing board don't excite you, then certainly tu m' and their high-pitched experiments in sound on "Watching Your Shoes" will be enough to get you all worked up. Minamo [duo made up of Keiichi Sugimoto and Tetsuro Yasunaga] produce a warm glowing composition "Listening", which explores the deeper side of squeaky bleeps, delicate pulsating blobs and an all-around enticing atmosphere. One of my personal favourites [definitely a stand out track] is a solo piece by Masahiko Okura "False Surfer Style". This Japanese saxophonist / bass clarinet player produced a solo bass clarinet piece [with very few edits] that resembles a howling wind, rather than what you're used to hearing from his instrument. The aura is quite static-like but yet warm, which goes to show that human element is still the key to any composition computer or instrument generated. For anyone asking about the health of new music these days, "lib. Fabric Compilation" is a mandatory starting point.

A compilation devoted to fairy music, you ask? Sure, anything's possible nowadays. "Fairy World II" is simply put a gathering of some of Prikosnovenie's [French folky label] best and brightest artists. Just because they mostly sign dreamy folk artists, I guess you could call this fairy music. [Either that, or because the booklet's artwork is wholly devoted to fairies.] Compilation features 17 tracks [clocking in at a healthy 75 minutes] that come from all corners of the world Russia, Japan, Greece, Australia. While it's true that most of music here resembles some sort of a medieval ritual [mating ritual, hunting ritual take your pick], there are pieces that don't necessarily fit it well. Take "Wild Trees" from Collection D'Arnell Andrea, which comes off like a lush [no pun intended] shoe-gazing band from the late 80's. Ethereal, haunting and wildly enticing, this track could stand well on its own terms. Then there's Irfan [a Bulgarian quartet] with their "Stella splendens", which resembles some grand chorus, and recalls the great choral traditions of Ukraine, Poland and Bulgaria. Maybe the music is a little too dreamy, a little too far off in the clouds. Then again, everyone needs some space music now and then.

What does reggae have to do with kung fu? Apparently, there is a whole mass of material that the people at Trojan unearthed that link reggae to the martial arts. Jamaican people used music to fight the way out of the ghetto much in the same way as the weak used martial arts to fight their way out of oppression. "Kung Fu! Reggae vs. The Martial Arts" is dripping with juicy reggae and dub tracks that in some way or another talk about the oppression, the art of fighting or just simply put martial arts. Too many tracks and nearly not a weak link in the bunch, which makes naming any highlights a difficult job. Dub-heavy Prince Jammy's "Shaolin Temple", The Upsetters' rumbling "Theme from Hong Kong", Augustus Pablo's cheery "Bells of Death" and the mandatory "Kung Fu Fighting" interpreted by Lloyd Parks. It seems that certain artists more than others loved the martial arts theme, which is why the compilation is heavy on Prince Jammy and The Upsetters. Either that or maybe the Trojan vaults have not been searched closely enough. Who knows, maybe there's more in the vaults where these treasures were found?Japanese free-rock, noise, sludge and avant-garde label PSF has been going strong now for two decades. To celebrate this fact, they've issued "PSF & Alchemy 20th Anniversary Live". The beautiful thing about this compilation is that it gives equal room for noisy guitar rock, fuzzy feedback and collective group improvisations. Noise-filled guitar duo of Keiji Haino and High Rise's Munehiro Narita squeal with raunchy licks galore. Their brand of noise showcases that there is in fact a method to this madness. Scraping and deliciously dirty, this 15 minute track rocks and it rocks heavy. But it's not the noise-fests of Kazuo Imai & Incapacitants or the loud melodic rock sensibilities of Marble Sheep that sell me onto this compilation.

Rather, I'm more convinced by the subtle beauty of the Go Hirano & Takashi Ueno duo where the guitar and keyboards create electricity that is calming and bold. Likewise, L & Friends have a stand out track that is boiling with restraint. Relying heavily of tambourine, humming and some bass guitar effects, this is one stand out track on this compilation I wish lasted much longer than its bare 6 minute length. For any serious fan of loud and crunchy guitar sounds, "PSF & Alchemy 20th Anniversary Live" is a great ride.

Tom Sekowski

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