Various Artists - Door To The Cosmos (On The Corner, 2020)
A compilation that will have you delving, diving and searching like never before, with a series of mind melting world beaters coming together on a truly superb collection of music.
When the willingness to experiment, expand and explore is as high as the importance of technical and musical excellence, then you have a winning blueprint which will always serve up the goods, time and time again. This vision when related to music and those who make can conjure up many forms and versions, be it in the form of a individual, group, collective or record label, when the identity of musical expressionism is all to do with the ways in which styles and feels can move to the beat of a singular drum, then the emotional investment and intrigue only gets heightened. Its about providing a musical experience that resembles, perhaps, something we remain familiar with, with little techniques and grooves resonating from within a body of a track, something which immediately leaps out at us to provide engagement and comfort. Its at this point which we immerse ourselves into what we know, and this notion allows us to give into what we start to see develop as the music unravels, and that is something is the unknown, the brilliant, the unexpected, the triumphant. The diversity in sound becomes that much more significant, as the spectrum of genres begin to merge, flux and blur in time, their characteristics bound by a few certain features which remain strong throughout but every now and then deviate in the most intuitive and flawless way possible. The identity of the music not immediately obvious, but instead taking the time to introduce itself over a series of textural developments, where tones and drums start to take shape and dictate the manner in which these musical landscapes might unravel and morph over time. When this kind of sonic beauty and engrossment occurs every few releases on a label, its always something to behold and celebrate, but when this sort of musical expressionism begins to take shape with nearly every record that gets pushed out, you always immediately come back, time and time again, expectant and engaged to what other worldly compositions might swirl around your head. The kinds of labels that push forward the realms and boundaries of music, where intelligent and visionary producers tell their story with compulsive and indefinitely interesting soundscapes, with all the tempos, feels and techniques in the world represented for our benefit. When you endear yourself to labels like these, your understandings will only become that more significant and expanded upon, your thirst for passion and invigoration satisfied on a consistent basis with each new slice of gold that makes its way onto our record players.
For a good while now, On The Corner has been releasing some of the finest in new age world music, with their musical boundaries seemingly having no end in relation to possibility or brilliance. Much like the 1972 Miles Davis record that shares the label's name, On The Corner has established itself since its debut back in 2013 as the go to imprint for the kind of music that defies expectation and labels, with much of the music found within a wonderful mix of genres, morphing over a series of tracks that speak volumes of the producers behind it and the abilities of the label heads to continue their excellence curation skills. The tracks found within operate very much on their own spectrum of sound, with records often finding themselves between the fine lines that operate between genres and scenes, the cracks that persist between sounds becoming filled up by the artists who operate on the label with vision and quality. With that in the mind, the label has continued to define and push the boundaries of what always felt possible but also injecting a healthy dosage of what is perceived as the unknown, with the music always taking the time to set things up but subverting your expectations so consistently. From beautifully considered Pan-Africanism excellence, to off kilter left field house rhythms, to hypnotic evolving latin rhythms, and basically everything inbetween, if you wish to engage with the possibilities that you perceive and perhaps didn't, then On The Corner has it all in spades, a truly masterful label that contains some of the finest talents in dance music today. As discographies go, theirs is truly extraordinary, a series of works that is rooted in the ideals of ground breaking musical expressions, but with all the time in the world for the producers and musicians behind it to add their own thoughts and freedoms into proceedings. Even though every release is a certified piece of excellence, we have selected some highlights, starting off with the the deep and moody house of the 'Over' record, released in 2013 by Emanative, Collocutor and Earl Zinger; The spiritually enlightening sounds of the 'Archaic Morning' and 'Instead' records, both of which were released by Collocutor in 2014; the incredible grooves tht reside on the brilliant 'Santuri's Embaire Umeme' release from the Mugwisa International Xylophone Group, that arrived in 2016; the field recording vibrancy of the brilliant Magnus P.I and their record 'Penya Investigations', that arrived in the same year; the percussive masterclass that is the 'Candomble' record, released by Black Classical from the same year; the low slung sonics of Penya and their 'Beat Your Demon' record, that landed in 2017; the intoxicating cosmic rhythms of the 'Zaire' record, that arrived from Khalab in 2018; the short but immensely powerful music found on the 'Madea/Dangerous Women' release from Tenesha The Wordsmith, that arrived in 2018; the sure fire electronix and beats of Dengue Dengue Dengue and their record 'Semillero', that arrived in the same year; the always incredible Hieroglyphic being and his 2019 release 'Synth Expressionism/Rhythmic Cubism'; The soft tender genius found on the 'State of Emergence Suite' record, that arrived from Asher Gamedze in the same year; and finally the amazing compilation of sounds found on the 'Nafasi Star' record from this year, which featured some of Dar Es Salaam's finest session musicians. Here we highlight but a mere dent of the enriching possibilities found on the label, with so much goodness to be found between each of these selected highlights, you will never go wanting at any point whatsoever. Take it from us, there really isn't another label out there currently doing what OTC is doing, so if you wish to really expand your mind, then take a trip down memory lane and start to see musical explorations take on a whole new level of excellence.
And now we arrive at the subject of today's review, the new compilation from the label, aptly titled 'Door To The Cosmos'. Featuring friends of the label and some new faces, like with many great imprints this comp is very much showcasing the beating heart of the label, its character and identity running as strong as ever over the 8 cuts found here. Its a beautiful statement from a label that just seems to hit the nail on the head every single time, where we just cannot put our finger on what might flow out next, with the diversity of sound and genres as high as ever. To hear so many talents together, all pushing for their own voice whilst crafting one for the overall album, is always a treat, and acts very much as a gateway for further explorations into the magic that is On The Corner. Truly one of the best of this year, lets finally get into all the wonderment that can be found on this slab of wax, lets dive in!
Up first comes Dengue Dengue Dengue with their track 'Yodeller', and we begin in very rhythmically rich territories indeed. The drumming operates on two levels right from the off, with the pulse of the track revolving around swirling percussive layers, that work wonders in between the spaces that the kick drum begins to occupy. The melodic elements are stripped back to the light xylophone sounding sequence, gently lying on top of proceedings with grace, along with the repeating vocal sample of 'hey!' that permeates through on occasion. Around the 2:30 minute mark we see the most overtly melodic element introduced, with the yodel line rising high through the heart of the track as the drums recede for a moment. Overall the track has a beautifully considered tempo to it, with all the elements within it operating so well as part of a bigger picture, a picture that invites you into a chuggy rhythmic universe filled with bright ideals and delicate rhythms. What an opener. Up next comes the Diabolical Liberties with their track 'River Of Sound', and this one ups the ante just a little bit. The background is filled with all the breakbeaty jungly goodness you could ever imagine, with all manner of vocal and melodic elements brought in to add further intrigue and foundations for what will transpire next. As the drums become more full, its on top where all the instrumentation begins to flourish, becoming a hotbed of melodic gorgeousness and dynamic beauty, with the track then flowing between varying tonal structures, cleverly moving between vocal samples as the key aspect of these transitions. The drums are never far away, with their presence acting much like book marks between the fullness of the melodies and the drums, and just like that the track fades away, in presence but it lives on in our minds for much longer after the track has finished. Marvellous. Up next comes Uffe and their track 'Free House', and the delicate sequences that prevailed in the previous two cuts make their way into this track. The drums start things off, the kicks joined by a number of lines like the chimes that blow casually in the breeze, and the off kilter hats that reside on the right hand side, and before long we are joined by an beautifully tonal arpeggio key line that moves right through the middle. A further melodic element is added in via a solo like key line that soars and shimmers above it all, again its tonal quality so perfect in relation to the rest of the features on the track. The key solo keeps going and moving the track forward, as we descend into a breakdown of sorts, which leads to an explosion of colour and mood, a real sense of the song opening itself up and expanding to all it sees around it, before we swing right back into the crux of the groove. This then flows along for a few more bars, demonstrating an excellence in considered measured progressions, before we move into yet another breakdown that leads to yet more explosive expressions that could fill up a night sky. Here the keys really look to craft interplays and interactions, with a number of sequences joining in with the swirling nature of the melodies, and its a super beautiful way in which to lead the song out. Up next comes Black Classical with their track 'Medassi', and the tempos are certainly retained coming into this one. The tune opens up with the soft Rhodes like chords which chime away on the left hand side, with the vinyl effects then leading into the monologue, which defines the contexts of the narrative of the song. Its a particular poignant verse, detailing how black men and women came from Pyramids to Projects, and how after all this time, they hear the call to rise, and after this last word is uttered we descend into the groove. The kicks and claps join at the hip, as the conga on top retains a more free flowing structure, as the bass then begins to pound along underneath proceedings effortlessly, and before long the Rhodes chords come back in to add continued flavour and feel. The rising backing chord takes hold within the sea of colour and tone, as the track takes a moment to pause and reflect, with the groove moving away in order to allow the vocalist to have space to deliver his second verse. Just as powerful and important, they bridge the space going into the groove once more, which builds itself up from the singular element of the kick before moving right into the fullness of the melodies. The track moves forward with the pulse, with lots of dynamic instrumentation, vocal lines and spoken word continuing to add audial interest, and its wonderfully pulled off, with such a flow between the varying elements that keeps the engagement levels extremely high indeed. A track that just flows so so well indeed, a house track that incorporates so many excellent ideas, instrumentations and words, every single box ticked. Brilliant stuff.
Up next we have Clive From Accounts and his track 'Moon Buggy', and the vibes keep reverberating from this brilliant compilation. The intro into this track is a rhythmic expression to end all expressions, with a dense soundscape of layered percussive features that just teams with life, its vibrancy doing much to get the juices flowing across the board. The vocal line that pops up every now and again just adds to the forward momentum, its quick flash in a pan delivery providing a real nice contrast to the dense percussive undertones. Before long however, we see the emergence of the deep set chords, which quickly transitions into the most pounding seamless transition yet, as the kicks come into play we are greeted by the most evocative series of bass tones we have ever come across. The vocal lines intensify, calling back and forth with each other with all their might, as the full force of the track begins to let itself known, moving between the gears with such purpose and drive. The tune then moves between the fullness of the main sequence, moving between the breaks in the tempo and the softer tender moments that do wonders to provide interest and forward momentum. Up next we have the big one, 'Singeli Jungles', performed by MC Palakata and Tom Blip, and the energy moves through the gears in a big old way on this one. We walk into a world full of pounding energy, where the panning and movements between the sides of the track add much to crafting a swelling, breathing world that persists within the middle of proceedings. The drums craft the perameters of the sound, as the middle remains for the powerful delivery of Palakata, who makes the melodic element his own at this early stage, as the bass line dives down right through the middle, its pretty fucking epic. The drums respond in like to the rising vocal lines, and after the second verse comes the melodic breakdown, with the chords retaining such a spacious and beautiful feel to them, the drums moving down in energy and presence, giving the keys the time to craft that euphoric moment on the dance floor, allowing us to look at the stars, dream of better days, the build up to this moment just so perfect. And then before you know it, SLAM! the drums build and build before hitting right back into it with all their might, their movement into it so on point and considered, its just brilliant. We ain't gunna say more, just go listen to it!!! Next comes Planet Battagon with their track 'Endeavour IX Tugg', and we move into the twilight Balearic left field time of the evening with this chuggy as hell number. The kicks and drumming sequencing on top are wonderfully dynamic, providing a strong foundation for which the deeply moody technologic chordal structures to really do their thing, crafting a sea of sound that is unlike anything you will hear on this record, or indeed ever before. The track retains a real sense of momentum, adding to its journey via the introduction of minimal little lines and sequences that keep the intrigue going on very strong indeed. The track takes a little breather, but the constant onslaught of drums and futuristic sounds cannot be denied, the energy of the track continuing on with devastating efficiency and maximum impact, its quite a sight to behold. To wrap things up, we have Sunken Cages and their bouncer 'Mudras', and its quite the ender to this amazing compilation. The low slung bass feel makes its home within the driving swing of the beats, where a essence of dancehall meets a wide array of wonderful little melodic touches that warm the heart and the soul but also get the blood pumping to those dancing feet. The contrasts between the bass driven structures and their fluid movement into the slightly more melodic moments is a great touch, and it serves as a great final reminder of all the things this album has looked to achieve during its 8 tracks of pure magic.
When all the cuts on an album share similarities, yet remain so unique to the artists behind them, then you are truly onto a winner of epic proportions. There isn't one second on this album where the music drags or plateaus, it simply remains as a series of musical landscapes that are filled to the brim with excellent ideas and brilliant visions for what music can achieve. On The Corner have always prided themselves on pushing music that is fundamentally engaging and passionate at its core, where additional features and elements do so much within a core foundation of sound that has been set up and executed perfectly, and this compilation is no different. There is so much here to marvel at, to appreciate and just dance to, with the largest amount of joy and passion going. Another comp that will surely reside in our best of list, a true triumph.
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