Various Artists – All
For a record label to last 15 years it has to have something, right? Some continuity or lasting appeal that stretches beyond that simple artistic need for a base to release music from. For Dial that might be the stability of the roster it has slowly, carefully built itself. Lawrence, John Roberts, Carsten Jost, Efdemin, Panthu Du Prince, Pawel. This is a stable of house and ambient lovers that have tended to remain deep, well composed and artistic in terms of their approach as well as their output, and the continual curatorial concern has always translated into work that can be taken as a long-term investment. With the right mood classy, continental deep house is always a relevant currency, and few have done it so well for so long.
That widespread notion of Dial as a sleek, ‘cocktails with graphic designers’ label does tend to be its overriding legacy, but while the big hitters and success stories have a waft of swanky agency about them the label still often takes experimental and unexpected turns. Christian Naujoks’s romantic classical experiments have been spread out over two records and three years; Dirk Von Lowtzow’s slow-release guitar drone was put to record on Tod In Theben; Queens’ 2013 End Times LP explored post-rock fades and gothic indie; Panthu Du Prince & Stephen Abry’s under-appreciated Usprung a soft take at free-form Balearic.
So 15 years and 5 compilations or so later, it’s nice to see Dial giving room for a few more untethered and diverse picks in amongst mainstays with this celebratory round-up All. The usual suspects are still all in their place plying their own particular trades, but supplemented with a variety of artists that push a little beyond the strict dimensions of chic house.
Christian Naujoks takes on the opener – ambient, naturally – and opts for a single elegant line of melody, pulling away from his classical interest in preference of a squashy, spacey retro-future optimism not altogether unlike Aphex Twin or Space Dimension Controller. The piece is a simple offering, originally recorded for use within his band Sky Walking, but compared with the slow unfolding beauty and piano-led emotional assurance of his last record True Life/In Flames it feels a little weak. But then again perhaps that style of work would fall flat in a group showing – where this feels serviceable, introductory.
Artist Stefan Tcherepnin immediately kicks the weirdness up a notch with a track spliced from work with United Brothers INC. – an artist collective seemingly focused around new media art whose presence might be part of Dial head Carsten Jost’s ongoing affiliation with the contemporary art world. The voice of Yuri Manabe floats atonally above strange green X-Files synthesiser. Prickly, real and unreal. “I want to be art / hello future / hello people”. Again, the effect is strangely retro-futuristic and you might hate it, but I don’t yet.
Such weird beginnings seem to give Roman Flügel’s straight-ahead approach an extra-defined form as “In Your Wardrobe” falls in, the bass thick and delicious. The track remaining delightful as it swings over eight and a half minutes. The same again for RNDM, the title “Summer Smile” saying more than florid words need to. Here we’re thick into the established artists and each of the label heads – Carsten Jost, Lawrence and Pawel, as well as John Roberts and Efdemin – each present their own little signature pieces. Jost’s “My Confession” seems particularly twisted, as though something more upbeat has been ratcheted down for a lower, darker tone – orchestral crashes scattered in amongst. John Roberts, as with much of his shorter works, defies easy categorisation in “Paloma” – the velocity and squall of the first half eventually forming some Hassell-esque Fourth World rhythm. Pawel gives us three minutes of straight up Balearic guitar.
All signals the spreading diversity of the roster, but it also seems to pointedly be making way for a new wave of Dial artists. DJ Richard has officially been on their books for ages now, with his debut LP on the label finally out later this year and “Zero” makes out like it’ll be worth the wait. A deep and darkly brooding thing, and the first instance of preset drum samples I’ve been drawn to in a while. Proper techno, if such a term weren’t so detestable.
Physical Therapy’s first interaction with Dial, “Market Crash”, feels a weird inclusion; a throw-away jungle throw-back that just feels slightly out of place. James K is a more interesting new premise, aligning with the occasional gothic and pensive projects such as Queens (whose string + reverb experiment “Earth Angel” here is fantastic, pure scorched post-rock) as they combine a simple dubbed metronomic tick with vocals twisted ethereal like Fatima Al Qadiri’s Ayshay.
The real surprise stays ’til last though, as Dawn Mok reveals and revels in a short blast of cloudy R&B with “Like Thoughts or Moments We Fall”, reminiscent of James Blake’s Harmonimix work as it restlessly investigates harmony through swan-diving auto-tune. Sheer culture shock of this in comparison to the (expected) conservative deep house seen earlier on from Lawrence or Roman Flügel will undoubtedly surprise some, and may even lead to opinions on what strange territories the label might be moving into in future – but I’d argue that the track feels at home out-of-place on Dial.
1. Christian Naujoks – For A While
2. Stefan Tcherepnin – I Want To Be Art
3. Roman Flügel – In Your Wardrobe
4. RNDM – Summer Smile
5. Carsten Jost – My Confession
6. Lawrence – Chez Dupont
7. John Roberts – Paloma
8. Pawel – All Nearness Pauses
9. Efdemin – No Exit
10. DJ Richard – Zero
11. Physical Therapy – Market Crash
12. Pantha Du Prince – Timeout On The Rocks
13. Queens – Earth Angel
14. James K – S Lush
15. Dawn Mok – Like Thoughts Or Moments We’ll Fall