Silber Sounds of Christmas
o this is Christmas, and what have you done? Well John, if you could drop that accusatory tone for just a second you’d discover that various chums of Silber Records have recorded a compilation that’s as fat as a spoiled child’s stocking. Or even as fat as a spoiled child. It’s generously available as a free download, so if you want to add some thrilling, web-based interactivity to this review, you can head over there and concurrently listen to any tracks which tweak your interest. Please be aware that any written-word-to-actual-sound discrepancies you may experience during this process are most likely down to some kind of inner-ear imbalance.
Like the aforementioned stocking, the contents of this comp are a little hotchpotch. Though some offerings will feel like receiving a fantastic toy or delicious chocolates, other parts will be more akin to pulling out an indefinable plastic makeweight. With so many different artists across a substantial amount of tracks (28, fact fans) this is somewhat inevitable, as a variety of styles are explored within a broad spectrum. Loosely speaking though, Silber are the bus terminal in which bands defining themselves as ambient and darkwave meet up and take a ride to drone central, only to discover that the seats are made out of weird electronic sounds, scratchy violins, and other assorted oddities of noise.
As it’s a seasonal affair, a fair few of these tracks are covers of Christmas favorites—although they generally bear about as much resemblance to the originals as the curious womble-alien half-breed on the record cover does to jolly old Saint Nick. Remora’s take on “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” for example, would probably sound more at home accompanying a panoramic sweep of an alien craft, cruising ominously around the universe. Familiar notes are audible somewhere in the mix, but the foreboding echo of recurring delay-washes crush all resistance. It’s an intriguing approach, but slightly undermined by a track-listing that places a cover of “What Child Is This?” (which adopts an identical tactic) immediately following. This time, the recognizable melody seems to be struggling against a vicious horde of bees that have descended upon the pianist at an unhelpful moment. Our plucky hero is eventually saved by some enthusiastic hoovering, which fortuitously removes the bees but doesn’t contribute much to the listening experience.
Some of the real treats can be found outside the Christmas stable entirely. “The Gleams Remained After the Blast” could just as easily be soundtracking an irradiated dystopian world, or what happens inside your fridge when the door is closed and the milk pixies appear. Whichever interpretation you choose to lay on this understated piece of floating, pulsing ambience, it will still soothe and beguile. The same holds true for “In the Land of Nod” by the Zanzibar Snails, which is closer to replicating the flittering sound of vibrant insect life and distant thunder than sleigh bells and roasting chestnuts. Others, like Origami Tacet, hint at aspects of the traditional narrative—their heavy-stringed “Remembrance” motions enigmatically at expansive deserts and the Eastern mysticism of the three wise men.
Back in the covers corner, a shining star appears in the form of My Ambient Nature Girl’s retelling of “Handel’s Messiah (Part 4).” Supplemented by the merest suggestion of a choir, harmoniously complementing the cascading sparkles of sound, the song seems to encapsulate the finer moments of this Silber selection. Different, without having to force the difference. Beautiful, without being pretentiously so.
Reviewed by: Peter Parrish
Reviewed on: 2006-12-01