The Unsound Automatic Starter Kit
( Unsound Automatic : UACD001 )
Tracks by Chris Hartford, Livestock, Andrea Rocca vs Bruco Lava, Radioactive Sparrow, Homo-Genetic Arsonist, Tony Gage, Richard Bowers, Simply Keys
Unsound Automatic are a new CD label based in London, although they've been active as a collective in Cardiff for some years. Their website gives a clearer idea of the bredth of their interests -- from music to painting, film and writing. Reviews of their releases by Radioactive Sparrow and Homo-genetic Arsonist, both of whom are represented here, can be found elsewhere at (musings).
The trash aesthetic of those two releases is manifested in the opening tracks -- an embarassingly fey comedy song by Chris Hartford and a unlistenably messy live noise-plus-shouting-fest from Livestock. Well, you either like those kinds of things or you don't, but it's a typically uncompromising strategy for the label to open its sampler with two tracks almost guaranteed to get most people to turn it off.
Things improve enormously from there on in, so the persistent are indeed rewarded. Most particularly, what immediately follows is the first of two pieces by Rocca and Lava; well-constructed Stock, Hausen & Walkman-styled sample collages with a great sense of fun and a knockabout, quick-moving approach. Both are very enjoyable, and one hopes that their "work in progress" will come to fruition soon.
Tony Gage, ex-Radioactive Sparrow member, offers a 4-track slab of guitar overdubs sounding somewhere between Caspar Brotzmann and LEGO. Then, just to keep us on our toes, he comes back later with a cheesy MIDI thing which sounds like the theme music to something like skiing coverage on some no-budget cabel channel. Every now and again, it distinguishes itself from Rick Wakemanesque horrors to dissolve into something altogether weirder, or to jerk itself into the next section without finishing what it was doing; a kind of lo-tech Mu-Ziq, perhaps.
Fellow ex-Sparrow Richard Bowers has something quite different to say, as one can tell immediately from the title of his "Of Landscapes". It's a drifting, ten-minute isolationist piece which is very effective, evoking contemporary Scandinavian composers, or more ambient electronicians like zoviet*france. It really is rather convincing, and it would be nice to hear a whole disc of this stuff. We also get a band called Simply Keys, who do something weirdly scary with distortion on, it seems, everything; promising, but one would need to hear more to know whether they live up to it.
Unsound Automatic are mining an unusual vein, searching for ignored, despised music, the music of amateur rock bands, bedroom knob-twwiddlers with cheapo equipment, lo-fi tape recordings, the music of people oblivious to music theory and indifferent to the demand to build technique, to develop one's musicianship. Unsound Automatic seems to place a lot of trust in the thesis that just because someone doesn't have the gear, the haircut and the chops of a pretensious studio musician doesn't mean they lack the musical imagination. It's pretty obvious that this is going to fail sometimes, but what's nice about this compilation is how often it succeeds.