Delusions Of Adequacy SEPTEMBER 15, 2014 - by Jon Gordon


Founded in either 1991 or 1992 depending on which website you think the more accurate, All Saints records began life as an outlet for some of the lesser known works of Brian Eno, who was soon joined on the label by artistes as influential and actually revered as Roedelius, Djivan Gasparyan, Harold Budd and John Cale, and I would like to tell you more about the labels 1990s releases but as the publicity for Greater Lengths admits, with a hint of resignation, 'most of the label's catalogue has long been out of print and hard to find'. The two part compilation is very much designed as a relaunch for a music label that must always have provided a necessary creative outlet for musicians and producers that, while their talents and influences are present in the work of so many others, produce music of their own that isn't always very accessible. For one reason or another, such as John Cale's shows at the Barbican in London this month, All Saints records have decided that 2014 is a good moment to delve into a music archive that stretches back to the beginning of the 1980s and to also provide a platform for a number of newer musicians, whose interpretations of works previously released on the label and that are perhaps now (temporarily) unavailable make up the second part of the compilation, and a twelve-page booklet provides a lot of necessary information to accompany its twenty-nine tracks.

Greater Lengths opens with an Eno track, the work not of Brian but of his less well known brother Roger. Amukidi is a multi tracked vocal piece that provides an African inflected introduction to Harold Budd's Afar, from his 1981 album The Serpent In Quicksilver a piano and slide guitar duet that is a lively counterpoint to the more reflective Saint's Name Spoken from his 1991 By The Dawn's Early Light album, which includes a guitar part from glam rock veteran Bill Nelson. Djivan Gasparyan, Armenian master of the Duduk (a type of oboe) brings a near eastern flavour to the proceedings with a track from his 1993 The Moon Shines At Night album, and one actual surprise is the appearance of Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, with the chaotically percussive 4-Minute Warning from 1988. It is however Brian Eno who dominates the first half of the compilation with two tracks in his own right and three collaborative pieces (one with Jah Wobble and two with John Cale). 1992's What Actually Happened? is a nervily pulsating slice of electronica reminiscent of his 1988 album made with David Byrne, My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts (Byrne is a notable absence among the performers on the first part of the album) while 1989's The Soul Of Carmen Miranda is an elegiac ballad that has one of the most profoundly eloquent and heartfelt lyrics I think I will ever hear: "lost in the trance of her dances / and abandoned by them", intones Cale, as Eno's sampler threatens to implode in the background.

The second part of Greater Lengths consists entirely of electronica and some of this is very well done indeed, cover versions of tracks from the All Saints archive performed by a host of names almost entirely unknown to me until now, with the exception of Machinefabrik who give Djivan Gasparyan's Moon Shines At Night a reverberating mellotronic reworking. Patten redevelop Harold Budd's Mandan into a swirling dream-pop epic, Michael Brook's Err is a jarringly repetitive sequence in the hands of Gavin Russom, Audio Active's Tilturn is effectively deconstructed by Sun Araw, and Budd's Feral drifts into looped dissonance when interpreted by Odd Nosdam. These are some very committed talents at work, bringing us music that continually challenges the constraints of electronica to find the actual soul of the machines.

Greater Lengths is as necessary and important an album as I think I've had the privilege to review for some time. It presents music made by individuals whose contributions to our album collections, our film soundtracks and the music of so many others is a significant one. It isn't a bewildering mosaic of dissonant, atonal, random sounds. It isn't either always an easy album to listen to, but that has more to do with the breadth and scope of the twenty-nine tracks that comprise it rather than those instrumentals and songs being too far removed from conventional musicality, which they for the most part aren't. It answers more questions than it raises, contains some mesmerically compelling performances and after hearing Djivan Gasparyan (if you haven't already), you will now know what a Duduk is. Essential listening.