Various Artists - Thorn Valley 2xLP (World of Echo, 2022)
"Fetching in royal blue and crowded with potted plants in among the records, World of Echo is not, to look at, an outlier in the scheme of Columbia Road’s tasteful Balamory well-to-do-ness. You’d be forgiven for expecting an extensive Four Tet section. As a cheering corrective, note ‘Blanco y Verde’, a track off a new compilation marking the shop’s fourth anniversary. Brooding in the pits of a mid-record catabasis, apnoeic stutters and Aki Onda-esque signal jammings make Komare’s offering one of the more hostile cuts. It also effectively summates World of Echo’s position in the contemporary underground. Komare make up two thirds of retired outfit Mosquitoes, a reissue of whose 2017 EP was the second release on WoE’s record imprint, est. 2020. Before that, Mosquitoes had contributed a mix to the shop’s excellent Inner World series. And WoE’s thoughtful record blurbs have consistently betokened a sincere personal enthusiasm for their work, unlikely as it is to find its way into the tote bags of too many devoted Hebdenites. WoE foster co-constitutive relationships.
The artists on Thorn Valley, then, are as nodes in a loose net of taste. There’s no obvious aesthetic to bind them, a difficulty overcome through sensitive sequencing. The first few songs share a quotidian charm, ‘Droste’’s sleepy synths prodding like pangs of optimism beneath the surface of a seasonal affective hump. On ‘Deep River’, Dutch duo Goldblum overlay a yawning loop with half-vocals and breakbeats which have run in the wash. Along with the following TRjj track, it’s apiece with the impish experimental pop spirit of Arthur Russell (from whom WoE take their name) and more recently of the vaporous Blunt/Copeland dynasty.
Things turn faintly malign with CIA Débutante, whose industrial blips are closer aligned to 80s DIY cassette movements. On highlight ‘Arc Volute’, Roxane Mètayer inducts us into a nervy electroacoustic environ of whistles and planed strings before a ritualistic climax of quickening thumps.
A more guitar-based – not to say ‘rock’ – suite follows. Still House Plants’ Jessica Hickie-Kallenbach embarks on her affecting trademark vocal jaunts up and down the scales over instruments which splay, scrunch, and eventually fade with some bright chord work. Moin, who usually play it uncannily straight, set themselves off-balance with some seismograph guitar squiggles.
Things taper away with the tender piano of Tara Clerkin Trio member Pat Benjamin, fittingly for a compilation which isn’t concerned to assert itself. These artists reflect life in its minutiae, as duration rather than narrative. As Nein Rodere murmur on ‘Projection Check’ over loose-fingered, homely guitar and Lambkin-like mic scritches, “a smattering of mundanity might lift just someone’s life.” It’s a DIY creativity that would and will exist anyway, but we should be grateful to WoE for the document." - The Quietus