Ellis Island Sound – S/T

In an era where the majors swallow up independent labels like small children after a trolley dash through a sweet shop, it’s a relief to still spot a few mischievous mavericks slipping through the manipulative net that seeks to scoop up minnows to make millions.
So although Ellis Island Sound may have signed a school textbook sized contract with EMI-acquired quasi-indie imprint Heavenly Recordings, it’s gratifying that the London-dwelling duo of David Sheppard and Pete Astor stand out so stubbornly anachronistic on a label weighed-down by the dreary indie-slog of the Doves and the Nirvana wannabe flimsiness of The Vines.
With a past pedigree more befitting members of your average Thrill Jockey combo or a British 80’s indie war-veteran society, Astor and Sheppard have had their fingers in more than just a few pies over the years. Astor paid his dues in 80’s Creation Records-stalwarts The Loft and The Weather Prophets, as a solo troubadour and more recently in lo-fi pop-experimentalists such as The Wisdom of Harry and Atari Priest. Sheppard has developed his talents as one third of marvellous avant-folk instrumentalists State River Widening, whilst also finding time to fruitfully collaborate with the ilk of David Grubbs (ex-Gastr Del Sol) and Piano Magic, as well as helping to impart The Wisdom of Harry with Astor.
Ellis Island Sound is, however, the oddest and most uncompromising yet most playful offshoot to the twosome’s continuously creative spurts. Compiling a selection of tracks from two limited UK 7″ singles, a US 10″ EP, and a trio of radical remixes of other artists, this compilation is hardly a conventional or commercial way to begin an album-orientated career. Nevertheless, it’s a refreshing and imaginative introduction to those unaware of Ellis Island Sound’s output, which stretches as far back as 1997.
Layering up banks of ancient keyboards, heavily-treated acoustic and electric guitars, and programmed percussion through the benevolent conduit of an antique Atari computer, Ellis Island Sound re-inject the DIY ethic into electronic-music with retro-modern charm. Citing the influence of Brian Eno’s “Another Green World,” film soundtracks, and ubiquitous Krautrock godfathers like Neu!, EIS forge colourful gliding instrumental sound collages that are neither hi-energy nor highbrow as well as being chilled-out but not comatose.
Highlights abound. “Theme From Milos,” with its tropical percussion and shimmery synth/guitar interplay, would make a fine soundtrack for an arty nature film about the Amazon jungle. The floaty “Data Centre” flutters its keyboards and electro-beats to gorgeous uplifting effect. “Vig Charm” and “Olympica 2020” are swirling dance-pop numbers for those without the stomach for club culture, strobe lighting, or bombastic heavy beats. The remarkably deconstructed mix of the Manic Street Preachers’ plodding rock-ballad “Ocean Spray” will no doubt offend purists from both parties’ fanbases, but it’s so damn cheeky and so deliberately metamorphosed that it acts as a delightfully mysterious conclusion to the whole collection.
With a full-length album proper already in the works – that promises both strings and singing – this compilation may have already underrepresented the agility of Ellis Island Sound’s peculiar niche. But as an experiment in making electronica without the algebra and finding a tuneful pulse in dance music’s frequently over-pumped and unchallenging arteries, this compilation exists in its own inspirational vacuum. A genial induction into a very strange but welcoming little corner of the world.