Sunday, July 10, 2016

Album Review: Various/Sherwood at the Controls Volume 2 1985 - 1990 (2016)

I ordered the CD/T-shirt bundle for this release as long ago as March (a pre-order for a June release), so my excitement when the package turned up in my letterbox last week was palpable. I may be a grizzled middle-aged man, but my inherent ability to revert back to "kid in a sweet shop" mode right on cue really is quite remarkable at times.

Of course, that's really just another way of saying that anyone hoping for a balanced or objective review of the latest On-U Sound compilation release will probably be best served going to another site.

The second volume of Adrian Sherwood's At The Controls series showcases a selection of the On-U label's extensive archives from the period 1985 to 1990. It's a follow-up to last year's impressive first instalment, which featured producer/label guru Sherwood's work from 1979 to 1984. More generally this release covers what was arguably Sherwood's most productive period, and highlights the man's uncanny ability to sprinkle fairy dust across a variety of different musical genres.

As such, hard-edged industrial post-punk electronica from the likes of Mark Stewart ('Hypnotised' 12-inch) and KMFDM ('Don't Blow Your Top') sits comfortably alongside the heavy funk beats of Tackhead ('Mind At The End Of The Tether') and Doug Wimbish & Fats Comet ('Don't Forget That Beat').

Naturally there's the obligatory helping of dub (roots/reggae and electro) with tunes from Lee Perry ('Music & Science Madness'), Bim Sherman (a stripped back dub version of 'Haunting Ground'), African Head Charge ('Hold Some'), plus a couple of tracks from label stalwarts Dub Syndicate ... although one of those is little more than a short interlude, effectively paying tribute to label legend Style Scott, R.I.P.

Other highlights include the so-very-Eighties politically-charged early hip hop of The Beatnigs with 'Television' ("it's the drug of the nation"), which features a pre-Spearhead Michael Franti. There’s a genuine synthpop relic from pre-hard industrial era (read: pre-heroin) Ministry with 'All Day', and Pankow's completely bent but still wonderful take on Prince's 'Girls And Boys'.

Contributions from Tackhead drummer and frequent co-conspirator Keith Le Blanc, ex-anarcho-punks Flux, Afro-German outfit The Unknown Cases, plus the otherwise little known Italians, Rinf, take the track-listing up to a generous 16 cuts in total - or just over 72 minutes of listening pleasure all up.

And yet, despite the wide variety of artists and styles merged together for this compilation - as with the first volume - nothing feels out of place. Every track is drenched in Sherwood signature moments - be it his absolute understanding and mastery of space through the use of echo FX or reverb, be it the careful placement of a politically-motivated sample or three, or be it some other odd sound-shape or subtle bass drop just when it's least expected. This is Sherwood at the controls, as uncompromising as always, and operating at something of a career peak.

Finally, the quality of the liner notes - not always an On-U label strength - was a nice surprise. The CD release comes with a booklet containing a very comprehensive set of notes, which provide some of the best commentary I've yet read about this remarkable label. There's a good selection of rarely seen photos - including one of a young Sherwood, with hair.

Oh, and I love the Tee, black with the album cover design, even if it is somewhat tighter fitting than I had anticipated it would be … three months clearly being an unruly length of time in the life of your blogger's ever expanding waistline.

I can hardly wait for the next volume already. Make mine an XL.

Here’s Tackhead’s ‘Mind at The End of The Tether’ ...


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