Here are a collection of worthy compilations that have come my way. All are thematic in one way or another. Three are charity releases, while others celebrate an anniversary or significant milestone for a label. What makes it all better, is each has it’s own style, offering up any possible direction for potential listeners to discover.

So here we are. Twenty years of n5MD! It seems like it was just yesterday I was unwrapping that pallet of MD1 MiniDiscs with the zeal of a child opening gifts at Christmas. To celebrate this milestone, I reached out to our current roster and alumni to participate in a compilation. What transpired is that nearly everyone asked handed in a track. What I thought would be a simple little compilation unwillingly became a large-scale history lesson in how the label has evolved from those early MiniDisc days. Twenty Years Away, as it’s titled, moves from the label’s experimental electronica roots to our electro-acoustic leanings and our more current penchant for heartfelt widescreen ambient. The collection seemed to shape itself as artists submitted their tracks. Maybe a testament to the n5MD “sound,” but probably just luck. It seemed to flow in such an organic way. It has become a wonderful musical escape for me in these tumultuous times, and feel it a testament to the legacy of n5MD.

The basic concept for Twenty Years Away was to celebrate such a milestone in the label’s history; however, I wanted to do something more by contributing all proceeds to a cause that is close to us at n5MD. For many years now, quietly, n5MD has been donating to the Cystinosis Research Foundation. Cystinosis is an extremely rare genetic disease. A lesser-known affliction in that there are only 500 patients in the United States alone, meaning that awareness and funding are scant. Cystinosis is an extremely rare genetic disease. A lesser-known affliction in that there are only 500 patients in the United States alone, meaning that awareness and funding are scant. I found out about Cystinosis through Clay Emerson of Loess as his daughter Brooke was born with the disease. I want to thank everyone who purchases this momentous collection as the proceeds will go to something intensely personal to us.”

Twenty years of the n5MD label is represented on this monstrous thirty one track compilation that provides over two and three quarters of an hour of blissful and challenging listening. Artists include a nice balance of older and newer artists that have graced the roster. Older names like bvdub, Last Days, OKADA, Port-Royal are balanced with those like Suumhow (who are given the opening slot to propel the release which they do with aplomb), Daniel McCagh, worriedaboutsatan and ILUITEQ to name a few. If you have ever wanted to dip your toes into the label then there is no better time than this as not only is a great representation/celebration of the labels talent (and Mike’s ear), it is for a charity close to the label’s heart. From twist on a dime IDM through to Synth Pads and New Agey sounds to Post Rock Inspired Ambience and Modern Classical fusions, there is certainly something for everybody. As the compilation is diverse in it’s it can cover any mood or appeal to most tastes for those into underground electronic music where the heart is front and centre.

“Twenty Years Away” is a Digital only release that also comes as part of a limited bundle with a n5MD t-shirt (which can also be purchased separately) and is very much recommended.

“Invisible” is an album of original pieces written and recorded as blind collaborations in response to the COVID-19 crisis by 11 Preserved Sound artists: Aaron Martin, Adrian Lane, Ales Tsurko, Benjamin Louis Brody, Cédric Dind-Lavoie, Glacis, Neal Heppleston, Tess Said So, Thomas Méreur, Trigg & Gusset and Visionary Hours.

All proceeds of the sale of “Invisible” will go to support children affected by COVID-19 across the developing world via the charity Mary’s Meals. £7.95 is the cost Mary’s Meals is able to feed a child for half a year. With the UK government doubling donations until January 31, 2021, each album sale will essentially feed a child in the developing world for an entire year.

The word “Invisible” not only refers to the concept that the COVID virus can’t be seen, but also that contributing artists collaborated on the pieces blindly without knowing what each other was recording. The album showcases the combined response of Preserved Sound’s community of artists to the unfolding COVID crisis – with the individual pieces coalescing to create a cohesive whole.”

Preserved Sound is one of those rare small labels which are about constructing a roster of regular artists, which gives the label a real sense of identity and culture of community. Of the eleven artists contained on this compilation, ten of them have appeared with releases on the label over the past three years with Glacis being the most recent addition to their roster. Names like Aaron Martin, Visionary Hours, Adrian Lane and Thomas Méreur should be familiar to those who have read about them on these pages. Preserved Sound for the novice are the quiet achievers as they are not bombastic in any shape or form when it comes to making themselves known. Instead they let their music / artists do the talking and the results are quite spectacular. Residing in the liminal states of Ambient, Drone, Modern Classical, Jazz and Experimental styles of music, the label have a high strike rate when it comes to the quality of the music they release. It is no surprise how successful “Invisible” is then and not only does it shine a light on the label and it’s artists, but also the cause behind the release.

The music on this release is less about chasing whatever is the current sound, rather the pieces have a timeless quality and could easily exist anywhere in the last century. Rather than pick out a particular artist or track, the thing that becomes most apparent is how great the pieces sound like. The top notch mastering of Ian Hawgood makes for every piece regardless of their style to compliment each other nicely. “Invisible” like “Twenty Years Away” is a perfect entry point into the labels, it’s artists and benefits a great cause. “Invisible is a available on limited cd and digital.

“PANICDEMIA Compilation, the first labels various artists compilation is gathering the élan vital recordings roster artists, in fight with the biggest world media PANICDEMIA. The tracks have been produced during this pandemic of fear and the forced house arrest, and are dedicated to this medieval totalitarian measure, expressing the feelings while locked, but also presenting the future sound preferences of the label. “

“Panicdemia” is a compilation from the North Macedonian Élan Vital label (which is a sister label to Post Global Recordings) that has also released seven other albums from the likes of Private Mountain, Motorpig, Keys For Eclipse, Carlo Giustini, Michele Andreotti and WHΛLTHISИEY. While I personally disagree with the sentiment behind the press notes (most of which I elected to leave out) and sentiment, this could be purely be the difference in experiences during the pandemic that we both have had. After all my entire home country has had half the deaths and just over a third of the cases that North Macedonia has had, while having twelve times their population. The people behind Élan Vital have likely experienced worse than I have, which I can assume influences how they feel about what is happening.

That said, sure the music is dark at times, but that seems to be following the path they took before things turned for the worse and is not as bleak as I was possibly expecting. With the release the label adds some new names to their roster like Rhucle, Soloi Sounds and Hymns57 to name a few. They also continue the collaborations they established on the Private Mountain release “STRATUMI” with Carlo Giustini and Robert Farrugia. Tracks by the likes of Motorpig and Soloi Sound venture into quieter, more textural realms, while others venture down the glacial pathway, like Small Life Form’s “Dreams In Market” and Augen’s “Clandestine”.

If music that touches the fringes of dark ambient, drone, isolationist and noise with a little hint of melody appeals to you, then “Panicdemia” may be what your after. “Panicdemia” is available on Limited Cd, Cassette and Digital.

Over the past year, a selection of artists have been digging through the depths of their creative pursuits, for material they either cannot finish, or else would like to see adapted. These same artists and more have delved into the resulting repertoire, and emerged with new, repurposed pieces.

Out of this births the first volume of the Sustain Series: a means for artists to make use of old sounds, hoping to bring forward music that might have otherwise not seen the light of day. Thanks to the input from a variety of fantastic musicians, old material can breathe new life, sometimes in more than one form.

It’s ever more important to think sustainably for the sake of our planet, and every effort we make will help curb the cataclysmic events we see shaping in front of us. Give what is feasible in these tough times, but most of all please enjoy this collection of recovered gems. – In the spirit of sustainability, your donation for Volume 1 will go to Conservation International.”

The Netherlands based Ambientologist label have had a consistent 2020 with releases coming out from artists such as Still Harbours, Henrik Meierkord, Julia Gjertson & Nico Rosenberg to name a few. Following on from their “Reflections, Vol 1” compilation which was a look back at their first year, this time ’round the label is focusing their attention to more recycling, repurposing or upcycling by having artists either taking pieces and weaving their sound into them or taking fragments to create whole new pieces. Artists like Benoît Pioulard, Strom Noir, anthéne and r beny are the better known names, but there is a whole host of other artists worth investigating such as Powlos, Snufmumriko, Hilyard and a little favourite around here Norvik.

Compilations such as this one (as well as the others within this post) highlight the diversity and collaborative approaches to music which makes the ambient underground such an exciting one. It is a little hard to discern where one artist finishes and another begins, but what is noted is the high levels of quality throughout the entire album. With twenty one pieces and just under two hours in duration there are plenty of pieces to sit back and let wash over you. While the styles may vary from the synth orientated to the slightly darker ones and the gritty to the crystal clear, much like all the compilations contained here, you are left with a feeling that Ambient sounds are in good hands.

“Sustain Series, Vol 1” is available Digitally and comes recommended.

“The concept of reaching the rather heady number of 100 releases when I started the label in 2002 was neither an ambition nor a consideration. I began by putting out CD-r’s for friends and it was about as primitive and DIY as it gets. No goals, no plans. It’s safe to say the desires and ethics for starting the label are still fully present and relevant all these years later and this milestone feels like as good a time as any to take a moment to reflect and celebrate this steady and patient ascent.

I want to take this opportunity to say thank you. To the outstanding artists I’ve had the privilege of working with, many of whom have become close friends. And to everyone who has supported the label, be it buying records, writing reviews, putting on shows or simply helping to spread the word. Holding truly independent values and practicing sustainability in this world is not easy, we need people to buy into what we do and that support is never, ever taken for granted.

Gizeh has never felt part of any music ‘industry’ and we have always deliberately operated outside the boundaries of genres and scenes. This approach comes with considerable headaches but ultimately it’s what has given the label its energy and longevity and, personally, it’s what keeps it interesting on a daily basis. I always liked the notion of the label being somewhat representative of my own record collection where there is room for tastes to change and grow and develop in unexpected ways.

This century release has been looming on the horizon for some time and thoughts of how to mark it have come and gone. The idea for this compilation was floated in the early part of the year with an open call to almost everyone who has been involved in the label to participate. It felt right to gather together so many people who have contributed so much to Gizeh in the past 18 years. The title is taken from a song by the late, great Vic Chesnutt. It seems to perfectly sum up our journey these past years and it’s a firm nod to someone who provides endless and much needed inspiration.

The end result is 21 exclusive pieces of music that offer a timely reminder of how important and necessary art is to the world. We need it now more than ever.

And now for some of the dark stuff. The second oldest label in this post is one which celebrates the darker, more experimental and cavernous outer corners of the music world. Run by Richard Knox (A-Sun Amissa, Shield Patterns) who is involved with most of the hands on aspects of the label, the roster has included such alumni as worriedaboutsatan, Mere, Chantal Acda, Loscil and others in the past. Of these, Chantal Acda appears as do the more recent artists on the label like Snowdrops, A.R.C. Soundtracks, Hundred Year Old Man and mainstays like Aidan Baker/Nadja and of course A-Sun Amissa.

The collection, while staying in the shadows is still an eclectic one with the music covering such terrain as Drone, Jazz influenced Post Rock, Acoustic Folk, Abstract Electronics, Doom/Post Metal and experimentally touched Modern Classical. That is to say that these genre classifications are not fixed as the music here is pretty fluid in the way that it moves, warps and mutates. This tends to be a hallmark of the music that has come under the Gizeh umbrella, which is not that easy to classify or compartmentalise. Personal favourites comes from the likes of Aidan Baker, A-Sun Amissa, Julia Kent and Of Threads And Mist.

“We Hovered With Short Wings” is available as a 2CD release with silk screened sleeves and also Digitally.

“‘Home Normal’ is a compilation of tracks we released in 2020 and will release in 2021.

The year was impactful for everyone around the world due to the Covid-19 pandemic and consequent lockdowns. After deciding to take a long hiatus after leaving Japan, we decided to move the label back home and restarted the label in the middle of the lockdown in 2020 in our little seaside studio in East Sussex.

Sadly we had to move out of the studio due to the financial implications of a cancelled series of shows and personal work. However, moving back home has been a real blessing and on a personal level I found myself more connected to my own music and those of my friends, as well as just taking time to be still at home.

The label has come back in a way that really has been such a joy, even if the future is uncertain as it is obviously a hard time to buy and sell physical products right now for so many of us. We wanted to work with great artists, good souls, and to create beautiful works of art filled with humanity, spirit and a fierce sense of hope.

The title for the album ‘Home Normal’ seems so apt as the label finally feels at home somewhere. Being forced to calm my own wandering spirit has led to a great deal of peace, and for the first year since our inception we’ve worked with close friends with a patient sense of their own creative nature.

The cover image was taken on one of my many flights to either the US or Japan when I was university age. I actually think it may have been my first time going to Japan when I was just eighteen on my gap year, and if so it was a trip that completely changed (or should we say ‘directed’) my life. As we have been unable to leave these shores for almost a year now (for the first time in my life), this image perfectly resembles the hope of motion and journeying on, but also the transient nature of life in all its infinite beauty.

Thank you so much for all the love you’ve shown for the work we’ve all done. Blessings to you and yours, and may your life be one of joy through adversity, as we all must overcome. Despite the distance, we are together in some wonderfully weird way. And for that, I am most thankful.”

It’s fair to say that Covid-19 has stuffed up many a person’s life to some extent. With label boss Ian Hawgood it meant the return to the label’s home of Japan was curtailed and made this Ambient Nomad rooted in one spot for an extended period of time. While it probably has undoubtedly affected his working / personal life, the one positive has been the focus that he has been able to apply to music this year. Not only has the Home Normal label been flying quite nicely, he has been uploading a wealth of material to his personal Folk Reels bandcamp page (with an annual subscription rate of only £5 you can’t go wrong). Not to forget the Slow Reels duo he debuted this year with James Murray on Morr Music and the fifty plus technical credits for other peoples releases he has contributed to this year alone.

After eight or so months off, the label came back with releases from the likes of Chronovalve, Silent Vigils, James Murray & Mike Lazarev, anthéne and re-issues/remixes from Ghost And Tape and Pleq & Hakobune. This eponymous compilation highlights some of these releases while looking into the future with 2021’s roster that includes Andrew Tasselmyer, Rosales, David Cordero, the man himself & Stijn Hüwels. What you get for the generous price of “Pay What You Want” is around ninety minutes of some of the finest ambient currently being produced. I have been a fan of this label for most of it’s existence, so you know that I can’t help but recommended this compilation. With it’s roster and entry point price it is the perfect way for any one with the slightest interest in the music that this blog has covered, to dive in and explore outwards.

With the way the regular collaborators work together in any configuration – be it Murray +. Hawgood+ or Hüwels + an artist, you know that you are not going to be disappointed by the Home Normal gang and the releases that come your way. When they founded in Tokyo in 2009 their manifesto was to present music we felt was organic, soulful and minimal in spirit and they have most certainly ticked all those boxes.

“Home Normal” is available Digitally and comes very much recommended.

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