Various Artists – Touch 25

Various Artists
Touch 25

The Touch label began life in 1982 as a series of cassette magazines featuring the kind of delicious packaging that has gone on to become one of its staples. It’s first release included, among other things, New Order’s “Video 5-8-6” intended as the soundtrack for the initial opening of the now legendary Hacienda club. Even so far back, the label’s guiding lights had a motto that resounds in every release to date that “Touch can be anything it desires, from words to music to images. Each medium received equal opportunity and the only necessary pre-item is conviction with tolerance. No two items are alike. Sameness is anathema. Quality is only born of change and that stimulus is the real motivation.” Pretty ambitious.

Continuing in this tradition, the label has commissioned several concerts in the UK this year to mark its quarter-century birthday. Most of the artists involved with the label were or will be a part of these events, and to go hand in hand with them, we get this lovely label compilation (adorned with beautiful Jon Wozencroft photos) featuring tracks from some of the outstanding Touch roster. Contributors here include Christian Fennesz, Oren Ambarchi, Rafael Toral, Rosy Parlane, BJ Neilson, Phillip Jeck, Biosphere, and Johan Johannsson to name a few. Dispursed between many of the tracks are strange voiceovers, ambient field recordings, and stock soundclips from what may be old newsreel.

The oddly acoustic track from Fennesz, “Tree,” with its icy adornment of white noise held just in check exemplifies this observation. Oren Ambarchi’s glitchy, slow “Moving Violation” is a nice contribution that could’ve easily come off either his Triste or Grapes From the Estate records. The surprising standout of the entire compilation is Johan Johannsson’s “Tu Non Mi Perderai Mai,” a drawn-out drone of celestial violincello, organ, and ring modulator. Believe me when I say that if you like drone, this song is “the shit.” The only other piece here that can even come close to it is Phillip Jeck’s “Hindquarters,” with its lonely piano wrapped in swathes of static.

I have many records in my collection that I would consider “seasonal.” Bjork’s Vespertine and The Black Heart Procession’s Three would definitely be winter discs, while something like Nirvana’s Nevermind or Snoop’s Doggystyle is definitely summer listening. I can’t help but feel that Touch 25 is another winter disc, even though here it is in July, newly released and I’m sitting in my nice air-conditioned house avoiding the 100-plus-degree Tennessee heat. As pleasing as these recordings are, it might be a while before I pull the thing off the shelf again. I imagine that in the dead months of January and February, this thing would be getting some heavy rotation.

For any fan of the Touch label and its A-list of pioneering experimental electronic artists, this disc is an absolute must-have. While all of its 25 tracks come together to make one cohesive listen, the aforementioned tracks are the cream of the crop. Searching for a place to get in on the ground floor of the avant-garde? Look no further.