Some Paths Lead Back Again—A Compilation by The Marcia Blaine School for Girls
ho would have thought that a compilation album featuring The Marcia Blaine School For Girls, with a cover featuring a pretty blue pencil picture of a girl in heels surrounded by some floating birds, would consist largely of odd, experimental electronic music with some hip-hop thrown in? If anything, I would have expected frenetic death metal or something completely devoid of the purity and innocence that is suggested by the cover. But the music here is quiet, contemplative, occasionally bouncy, and nearly always interesting.
All I know about the various artists featured on this release is that they all hail from Scotland, only one of them is actually called The Marcia Blaine School for Girls, and none of the others is Boards of Canada. Up-and-coming artists are the staple at Highpoint Lowlife, the London-based label that put this two-disc compilation out. Obviously, all artists are up and coming until they arrive, but, frankly, I don't much care for these sorts of compilations, in part because too many unknown artists think that the only way to become known is by copying more established artists. Hence, compilations like this usually end up being collections of lame copies of works that Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin, Autechre, Pan Sonic, Taylor Deupree, Shuttle358, and Biosphere have already spent many years perfecting.
So, yes, most compilations are disappointing. However, this one isn't. I'm not going to lie and say that I didn't sense the ghost of Tangerine Dream on the one Marcia Blaine track or the faint echoes of Pan Sonic's most recent hardcore-happy experimental work on Izu's "It'll All Be." There are, in fact, faint hints of predecessors on nearly every track here. But these "hints" show up more as atmospherics, as thematic frames, than actual borrowings. In other words, these artists pay homage to their predecessors, but they do not seem overwhelmed by them; the music here stands on its own.
I think emotions are the key here. Good artists can take the most banal material and turn it into something not only memorable but also essential. Most of the tracks here use the basic elements of hip-hop and electronic music, and it would be incredibly easy for these artists to create something predictable and stale. But that's not what I hear. I hear music that is interesting yet fun, experimental yet quiet, melodious yet unconventional. There's something truly frightening about the thirteen-minute "Routed to the Spot" (by Marcia Blaine), a spiraling, elliptical ambient work that weaves a variety of synthesizer lines into an intricate (but delicate) pattern that seems neither capable of ending or beginning—just existing. It's like that nightmarish moment in everyone's life, where something truly tragic happens—so tragic that no words or thoughts or even emotions can really describe it. The moment extends into eternity, stopping time, preventing your body from reacting to outside stimuli.
That a song can capture this extended, unreal feeling is a feat. It's not alone, however. Other truly memorable tracks on this work include the aforementioned Izu's "It'll All Be," Daigoro's unusual and melancholy "Sleepy Fish" and "A Drop of Rain Slowly Dissipates," The Village Orchestra's propeller-fueled trance experiment "Picnic at Disco Rock," and Production Unit's "Sad Bagpipes" (which is memorable, in part, because it sounds almost nothing like sadness or bagpipes). I know nothing about these artists, but I look forward to hearing more of each, and I recommend Some Paths Lead Back Again as a starting point for anyone interested in looking for new and interesting electronic music.
Reviewed by: Michael Heumann
Reviewed on: 2005-04-19