By Various Artists
Do you have a special friend who sends you compilations of their very secret favourite tunes? Someone you love enough to want to discover new bands to play for them? Bella Union's fantastic two CD compilation puts me in the same precious frame of mind that drives that kind of friendship. Here are 21 glorious songs and tunes from passionate musicians who care about the sound of every note they play. Cocteau Twins Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde, who own Bella Union, appear in their other guises on the album. So too do Lift to Experience, Rothko, Dirty Three, Devics, Garlic and a glorious troop of others.
Superficially the music is "chilled" or "relaxing" or some other nonsense word. In truth it's dense, complex, beautiful, intelligent and thoroughly invigorating. There is no pissing about with repeated chunks of rock pop cliché. Simple themes are explored, extended and embellished in the most delicious ways. It's connoisseur music for sure, but it's not "difficult" or "experimental" in any threatening kind of way. You can wallow in the emotional balm of this stuff if you really want to. Close and detailed listening is also recommended.
There's the steel guitar and quirky Malkmus phrasing of Garlic, the manic spiritual improvisation of Lift to Experience, the French chanson of Francoiz Breut, the classic beauty of instrumental "Don't Try" from Gwei-Lo, the inspired violin of Dirty Three/Bad Seeds Warren Ellis and two excursions for Mick Turner (Dirty Three and Bonnevill). There's electronic construction from Al Brooker and the great and glorious anthemic guitar pop of The Wave Room.
A full list wouldn't really help. What I suggest is that you go out and buy this compilation, fill your house with it for several days then go back once a week and buy each of the 21 albums and EPs in turn until you've got he lot. Bella Union have a very neat Web site where you can deprive Jumbo of their cut, if you have a mind to do it that way. If you don't have a very fine audio set up waiting to play it all on you might lose something. The production quality is exquisite and you can just feel the physical presence of the playing. Just shiver at the viola on Rothko's "Harold Budd".
Fear not, real music in the UK is alive and well.