Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Label to Keep Your Ears On: Sparkwood Records

A while ago I wrote a piece about some tracks released by Above, Convenience Store! on their Soundcloud page; in this piece I'm going to recommend the independent label started by the duo, which is named Sparkwood Records.

At the time of writing, the label is home to three releases -- Above, Convenience Store!'s own full-length album Building in Search of the Sun; and self-titled EPs from the Elephant Frame and Eyesix.

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Building In Search of the Sun cover art

Building in Search of the Sun continues the promise of the duo's earlier work; relevantly enough, I first listened to this from start-to-finish on a day that had kicked off with lightning, thunder, and lashings of rain. This is an album that reflects the storminess and the turbulence of the natural environment -- something that can be heard in the samples of rain on a track like 'Boneyard Stray Dog', and atmospherically throughout the album in the windiness evoked by the lo-fi drones and layers of distortion that can be heard in tracks like 'Mask of Mammon' and the aptly-titled 'Shaken from Earth'.

Also interesting is that this album shows the duo nicely branching out and showing a bit more of themselves in their music: while twanging guitars like those on 'Hierosheva', and the synth textures of 'Dusk Encryption' still sonically bring to mind the influential collaborative efforts of Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch, I can hear them using these sounds to explore different themes and ideas. For example, I get from this album -- from the storminess of the sounds, from the interesting title, and from the cover art's towering pylon against a sinister grey sky -- a sense of the duality and conflict between humanity and nature.

From a label that can be seen to (as you'll see from the other release) specialise in highly nuanced, almost 'visual', sounds, it's this full-length release from the label's founders that I feel really sets the standards.

The Elephant Frame EP cover art

With this self-titled EP, Oslo's The Elephant Frame certainly fits well alongside Sparkwood's founding artists. The five tracks on this EP have the same evocatively mysterious 'outdoorsy' feel of the tracks on Building in Search of the Sun, albeit with less use of distortion, which serves to lend the Elephant Frame's work a general sense more of grey-skied cloudy melancholy than the stormy turbulence of Above, Convenience Store!. As a sense of greater threat is introduced in EP closer, 'A Day to Remember' - as distortion and noise begin to take on a greater role against a contrastingly gentle guitar line - I can visualise a storm beginning to emerge from the melancholy, and I find myself anticipating what lies in store for future releases from the Elephant Frame.

eyesix EP cover art

Offering a different sound altogether is eyesix. In keeping with the general style of the label, this is music fascinated with and deliberately evocative of nature and the outdoors -- something that can be seen in the similar artwork, and that can be heard in the continued utilisation of field recordings / samples of field recordings on this release. Crucially different though is the mood evoked: where Building in Search of the Sun and The Elephant Frame explore dark clouds and storms, eyesix brings to my mind's eye a greater sense of a brighter atmosphere; something more like a clear, blue-skied Winter's day.

The Boards of Canada-esque synthesizer textures give the EP an unmistakably nostalgic, almost 'hauntological' sound (implied also through track titles like 'Nuclear Family' and 'Soylent Green'); and are coupled with a good ear for melody that helps the music act as more than just a vehicle for nostalgia -- something that I find can sometimes be a downfall with many artists working with this similar sonic palette -- as the music evokes a feeling not dissimilar to going for a carefree walk in a fresh, cool Winter breeze, as the sun retreats behind hills. Especially on the excellent 'Soylent Green'.

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Definitely a label I'd recommend -- not just for the music (as in tune with my taste for music that blurs the lines between 'organic' and 'electronic' as it is) -- but also for this ambitious sense of almost continuity that runs through the work they've released to date: this sense that Sparkwood are a label who aim to reflect, through music, the various faces and characteristics of the outside world and how people can interact with it.

Details from where you can hear their music on Soundcloud, and stream / download (pay-what-you-want) from Bandcamp are...
Soundcloud -- https://soundcloud.com/sparkwood-records
Bandcamp -- http://sparkwoodrecords.bandcamp.com/

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