Album Review: Various Artists – A Tease From Loophole

Various Artists

A Tease From Loophole

[Self-Released; 2010]

Links: At Ease | Bandcamp

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(Yeah, we’ve swapped out the cover for something a bit more fitting. If you want to see the original cover, created by one of the more lovingly deranged compilation creators or just have a thing for Jeff Goldblum you can check it out here.)

Whittled down to a mere 21, A Tease From Loophole compiles original songs from some 50,000 members of the AtEase message board. A tagline like that may make the majority say “pass,” but such ignorance is stupidity in this case because this compilation shows that there are many greatly talented individuals out there, able of creating works that could stand aside (or even above) those they likely aspire to. The talent spreads itself out in various forms – while some have a knack for being able to effectively utilize a sample, others boast superb skills on their instruments, while some have the production of music down to every minuscule detail, being able to bring out the best of the song.

Perhaps one of the best things about this compilation is the way it presented to the listeners. Instead of a typical compilation format, it’s broken into two easily digestible parts that each stay around the half hour mark. Part 1, Leopholo, offers more immediate diversity and selection while Part 2, Salty Waters And Breeze, boasts a somewhat more accessible edge with clearer instrumentation and song structures. But these descriptions only go so far. Both parts are full of gems and offer something for everyone; to those who like their songs stripped right down, to those who bath in drones and even to those who like to dance.

The level of production varies between the songs here, allowing tracks buzzing with microphone hiss to sit amidst those that sound like they have come fresh out of a high-end studio. But this fact only reveals that no matter what equipment they have at hand, these talented musicians will keep recording and playing. A track like “Untitled” by Darkling might be cast in a pool of hiss but the guitar playing is still articulate and considered. Johnny Setlist’s “Elder’s Descry Part 2” also unfurls with hiss but it sounds a little different; it twinkles, adding a juxtaposing backdrop to the ominous drones and unsettled voice but acting almost as the link between that and the cathartic noise that the song builds too. Contrasted with these are numbers like “Smokestacks Part 1&2” by Taking The Stairs, which shows obvious and immediate talent in guitar playing, intertwining complex melodies, but also has mixing and production as clean as one could really ever hope to get.

But one should be able to appreciate a track despite what kind of microphone it was recorded with. Blueberryseason sings with an earnestness that’s hard to find from artists who have the pretension of some sort of established following behind them; “Epic Maverick Spirit” sounds youthful and sprightly but retains an introspective quality with its lyrics. Jack Morgan’s “White Wires” sounds equally as individual and honest, albeit at a more gentle pace; the vocal melodies sounding like they have been worked on with the kind of deliberation that matches the underlying heartbreak in the song. Elsewhere, Albert DesSophy’s voice tremble with a sort of nervous tension amidst chunky and jangling guitar on “Birds,” while “Phantom Thorns” by Atticus & Ike benefits from swift and enthusiastic drumming to help it hold its jaunty tone. Ezequiel Ezequiel on the other hand creates a hypnogogic aura with instrumentation that sounds as living as the singer, like it’s breathing itself, before settling hypnotically to a stop.

However, the best moments from Salty Waters And Breeze comes from Popular Mechanics and David McDonagh. “Low-Angle Shot” by Popular Mechanics is a quirky number that melds a number of noises and instruments to create a ticking blanket of noise. I’m even tempted to say it sounds like some more youthful alternative Tom Waits track. It has one of the best choruses of the compilation, but the best part is the vocal delivery in the middle section where the singer becomes more and more pissed off each time he sings, “It keeps on getting closer.” David McDonagh’s track “England’s Tax,” which closes the second disc, is a sobering piano number that might well linger too long put anywhere else but in the context of this compilation it’s near perfect and damn beautiful.

But first impressions are much more likely to lie on the first disc, Leopholo. Despite being the shorter disc, it feels a lot fuller of selection and variety. It begins with the fidgety and upbeat “Lorn In Iraq.” It’s a hard track to define due to the fact you could probably bust a move or two to it, but you could also sit and just nod your head. It’s an almost beguiling introduction, swirling about in ambiguity before sinking into the faded riff of “These Things” by Layman. At first the riff seems thematic and in for simple effect, but once you listen more carefully you hear it almost echoing the vocal melody and you begin to wonder if it is indeed a guitar or a severely distorted voice.

Layman’s track is one of a few of the more conventionally structured tracks on Leopholo. The other best candidate is “On The Circle” by Fauna. It feels like a full band affair as opposed to single effort (I say that, it could well have all been performed by one person) and once again its clean production allows the rich instrumentation to shine. The Artichokes make a stab at a typical song structure, but “11 June” is dosed with reverb and distortion, with a slight lilt of calypso and free jazz, disguising it from being seen this way at first.

Being a Radiohead message board, you’d expect the majority of stuff here to be some cheap knock-offs but surprisingly enough, it never actually sounds like anything the Oxfordshire band. The closest comparison is perhaps the dizzying Companions In The Haze track, “Leave Your Head On My Shoulder.” The twitching beats, grave piano and the wordless hums at the end of the track could be compared to something by Thom Yorke, but the comparison is only there if you force it. The artists here instead take influence from major players in other genres. “As It Comes” by Dead Ringer recalls the deep expansive dub of Burial, but instead of sounding like a lonely walk in a city at night, it sounds likes the hazy remembering of a glorious summer evening. The dazzling “Sunlight Hurts My Eyes” by Amnesia Morning is a sublime wave of a.m. noise, like the first sight of the sun through half-opened eyes like the title suggests, that plays like a tribute to the shoegaze bands of the late ’90s.

Then there’re the wild cards. “Lime From The Side” – a funk rock/hip-hop effort – comes up surprisingly entertaining with its groovy instrumentation and comical lyrics (the line “Clogging up the arteries and fucking up the flow” resonates jovially but true here). The only qualm I do have with it is that the vocalist sounds unsure and distant from the microphone at times. If he were to sing with more gusto then he might well capture the attention of more listeners. “Tronheld,” on the other hand, is a whole different creature. The Dead Gorlax has basically taken Kevin Barnes’ Skeletal Lamping idea and gone batshit insane with it, cutting up voice and about two million different samples and pasting them all into a vacuum of echo and reverb. It’s terribly overwhelming and off-putting at first, but it’s also fun. It acts as an example of how music making both by professionals and amateurs can and should be fun. And hey, there are actually quite a few great grooves within the track – I’d actually love to see him focus and spread them out onto a new palette.

There are even a few artists in here that I’m already familiar with. Matt Diamond takes a left turn from his Boards of Canada-influenced soundscapes and fills what sounds like a cathedral with the strums of a guitar and a saintly voice on “Ghost Hands.” Personal favourite Sleep In once again shows that he can fashion a beat over anything. Here he does it with dissonant tones and a back-pedalling bassline on “Mother.”

If there’s any level of disappointment here it’s perhaps that Mesita, who I happen to know is a member of the AtEase message board, isn’t on here as he would likely make the compilation shine even more. But that’s just personal desire kicking in and it’s not really fair or relevant. A Tease From Loophole manages to show the vast variety of talent on offer from those we’ve never heard of and likely ignore. Layman might well sing “I’m just not good at these things” on his track, but this quite simply isn’t the case for him or anyone else here. This compilation is almost the echo of the influence from all fields and times. When kids hear music, it’s only natural they imitate and start making some themselves. But when the results are this good, I’m hardly going to stop them.