Various Artists: Crystallized – album review
LP / DL
Out 26th Nov
Louder Than War’s Brett Savage reviews arguably the years most essential compilation album, 12 tracks that give you “a glimpse into the past, present and future of one of the UK’s most vital labels”, Rocket Recordings, home, amongst others, of the phenomenal Goat.
Many people bemoan the death of the independent spirit. The very term ‘indie’ is in itself a contested space. Does ‘indie’ even mean independent any more? Many ‘indie labels’ are in fact sponsored clearing houses created by major labels to capitalise on a bit of ‘cool’. All independent scenes are a case of necessity being the mother of invention, as the more maverick musical spirits realised that major labels didn’t see them as a great investment.
Nowadays, the term ‘indie’ pretty much applies to bands slightly left of the AOR spectrum. Has that independent impulse been destroyed by the co-opting of the aesthetic by the majors? Well, no. If anything, there has been a flowering of young labels making their way to the surface in recent times and true to form, it has been those independent entities releasing the most vital music.
Bristol based Rocket Recordings have been toiling away at the coalface of the independent scene for the last 15 years. Although their output can largely be described as ‘psychedelic’, they are not restrained by the traditional definition of the term. Rocket do not deal with tedious revivalist 60s wannabes whose parodical approach to music is a depressing equivalent to Civil War Recreationist Societies (replacing their pikes with Vox Teardrop guitars), rather they have kept their eyes focused sharply on the forward thinking, the innovative and the noisy. They have unerring musical instincts and have an enviable back catalogue which includes releases by their hometown heroes and subsequent ‘cult’ – The Heads. In recent times they have released three indisputable classics: Drop Out by Gnod & White Hills, Your Mercury by Teeth Of The Sea and perhaps the most exciting album of last year – World Music by Goat.
Crystallized represents the jewels in the label’s crown and also gives space to bands that are in line with Rocket’s musical vision. It is fitting therefore that the compilation should start with Teeth Of The Sea. Run Red is a miasmic affair of haunting synths, spindly guitar and creeping foreboding. The great thing about Teeth Of The Sea is the way they can absorb influences without them overpowering their identity. There is certainly an air of the oppressive Throbbing Gristle industrial influence shining through. They are swiftly followed up by Leed’s Blood Sport whose bristly and spiky take on high-life guitar rattle through a bracing and raw Dry Water. Vision Fortune follow up next with a similarly agitated groove with Forgot How To Swim.
Not ones to rest on their laurels, the amorphous Gnod collective seem keen to continuously redefine their own boundaries on Holy Empires, with vocalist Neil Francis’s voice floating over a murky alien Rave, like some kind of echo-ey mist. Sweden’s Uran head off in search of space with Emp, rocketed on by a propulsive motorik groove that Dave Brock would most certainly approve of.
The absolute highlight of Crystallized for me is Hills’ National Drone, which does precisely what it says on the tin. Pagan chants, fuzz wah and tambouras grind away on this drone that seemingly beams in midway from infinity. Hill’s Master Sleeps (reviewed elsewhere) really hit the spot with me and I can’t wait to hear their new album due to take flight from Rocket’s launch pad next year.
Crystallized also peers into Rocket’s back pages with Rollbars’ Short Fuse, which sounds like a sentient fax machine (and quite an enjoyable one at that). Short Fuse was originally planned as a Rocket 7”, but never saw the light of day until now. Ex-pat weirdoes, Shit And Shine keep up the good work with Please Don’t Share, a crunchy dirge reminiscent of the Butthole Surfers at their most perverse. Cherrystones offer up some bare nerved minimal psych with the spooky Cat’s Cradle.
The final stretch opens with the Lay Llamas African Spaceship, which cruises deep space with a loping, krauty groove. Goatjam signals the return of those unlikely Swedish voodoo priests, who have come to ensnare you with their uniquely hypnotic take on Afrobeat. You may find your legs moving of their own accord and overcome with the involuntary urge to wear a stovepipe hat and facepaint. Magic stuff!
Bringing the album to a close is Anthroprophh, who now include their regular touring partners Big Naturals. Anthropomorphism is a riotous jam made up of unstable molecules, waiting to explode. Pounding rhythm urges on the wildly unhinged guitar wigout, reminiscent of the wilder side of Can. Anthroprophh is the work of Paul Allen of the Heads, who Rocket have always had a long association with. This is a nice touch, arcing back to their roots.
So there you have it. This 12 track compilation gives you a glimpse into the past, present and future of one of the UK’s most vital labels, and proves conclusively that reports of the death of independent music are quite premature.
If you want a copy of this album, and you really should, act quickly as they only have a few copies left and we’ve been told it isn’t going to be re-pressed. BUY HERE. Other releases on Rocket, physical and digital, can be purchased on their Bandcamp.
All words by Brett Savage. More work by Brett can be found in his Louder Than War archive.