Thursday, June 11, 2009

Archaic Horizon Records (2007-06/2009)

From Wikipedia:
"Creative Commons has been described as being at the forefront of the copyleft movement, which seeks to support the building of a richer public domain by providing an alternative to the automatic "all rights reserved" copyright, dubbed "some rights reserved." David Berry and Giles Moss have credited Creative Commons with generating interest in the issue of intellectual property and contributing to the re-thinking of the role of the "commons" in the "information age". Beyond that Creative Commons has provided "institutional, practical and legal support for individuals and groups wishing to experiment and communicate with culture more freely".

Creative Commons works to counter what the organisation considers to be a dominant and increasingly restrictive permission culture. According to Lawrence Lessig, founder of Creative Commons, it is "a culture in which creators get to create only with the permission of the powerful, or of creators from the past". Lessig maintains that modern culture is dominated by traditional content distributors in order to maintain and strengthen their monopolies on cultural products such as popular music and popular cinema, and that Creative Commons can provide alternatives to these restrictions."

To put it simply, Creative Commons licensing is a move towards making art and other creations available to all while still acknowledging the role of the original artist. As technology allows musicians to move beyond the traditional record label-dependent industry, Creative Commons gives them the ability to retain legal safety and control while expanding their horizons. Think of it as a digital birth control, perhaps - artists need no longer be tied to and dependent upon one majour label or another for life, meaning that the artist is empowered, not the record industry.

As such, new internet labels have popped up around the idea of Creative Commons, acting as a means for community and discovery without the stale confines of outdated business models. I intend to review these little bastions of art and creativity, both for the overarching focus of the label and the highlights of the albums offered.

Copyright laws have moved far beyond their original scope, having left the realm of protection and entered a monopolistic state of being. The rapid spread of information via the internet has allowed, for the first time, the breakdown of this construct, and I am wholeheartedly for it. Alongside the paradigm shifting of the music industry, I see a lot of hope for the future, and would like to support these efforts.

However, as CC artists are not chosen for their market appeal and profitability, it is solely up to the label runner's tastes what is and is not picked up. Thus, the potentially lax criteria involved with artist adoption by these labels can lead to less-than-stellar releases by artists who just aren't ready. Sure, majour labels have their fair share of duds and soulless cash cows, and this certainly is nowhere near as bad as the base profligacy that Myspace has allowed, yet it is still pertinent.

I get it already
Great, I'll just give a little glimpse into what will go on in these reviews. First of all, I'll provide pros and cons for the labels themselves, which will be fairly self-explanatory and straightforward. After that, I will break down the good releases, offering mini-reviews for each starting from the earliest release that I like, and perhaps full-sized ones for exceptional albums. I will skip any works that do not meet my quick-and-dirty approval - while this may mean that I miss a couple flawed gems on accident, there is far too much material on hand for me to care. If you happen to be bored, by all means look at the other artists that I don't cover, and definitely tell me if you find one that you believe to be deserving of attention. Due to the nature of my analysis, these reviews will have to be updated in the future due to expanding label catalogs, perhaps on a yearly basis if I am so inclined (don't count on this).

All music and art is freely available for streaming and download. Band names are bolded, album names are italicized, and songs are quoted.


Archaic Horizon Records

Pros: Archaic focuses on a very chill and smooth style of synth-heavy ambient dronescapes and minimalistic electronica. The use of samples and texture is a common motif, although the material is typically very simple and unpretentious, given much more to mood than technicality. Retro synths and styles are also common, although this is a tenuous aspect that is often teetering on the edge of cheesy. Still, some very beautiful works are encapsulated in this collection - the ep's in particular tend to be quite good.

Cons: There is an almost universal use of mediocre drum samples and beats in the Archaic catalog, ranging from baby's-first-Fruityloops-beat to public access drumkit #55. Although they generally keep a low profile, I find it easy to become fixated on them and really hope to see some progression in this area. Also, the simplicity of these releases can work against them - I would like to see a bit more depth worked in with heavier layering to enrich the sound. Electronic ambience can be tricky to make engaging, and the Archaic kids often fall prey to this.

Label Verdict: 7.5/10


The Albums

First Layer: AH001-AH010

  • AH002
    Orange Crush - The Fields

    The second Archaic release is a fitting poster boy for the label, chock full of warm, wistful melodies and marred by dim-witted, yet well-meaning beats. The ambience itself is pretty good, evoking a youthful world of sunsets, and the drums are just toeing the line of trite, so I have a generally positive feeling for this album. Highlights include the title track, a sparkly, hopeful affair that flirts with lo-fi spunk and the sample-driven burbling of "Across the Breeze".

    Verdict: 6.75/10

  • AH003
    Corwin Trails - Corwin Trails ep

    Here we have another engaging Archaic releases. Corwin Trails hits all the right spots to get me going: use of spoken samples, creative beats, nostalgic synths, and experimental cutting leave this all-too-short ep always ready for an encore. "Icicle" is definitely my favourite track here - just give it a listen.

    Verdict: 8.5/10

  • AH005
    Hills West - Glare

    Glare opens with the gorgeous "Sonsun", whose wavering clouds of drone bring to mind the headiness of shoegaze, albeit stripped of its noise and grit. Although the rest of the album doesn't necessarily measure up to that, drums are thankfully relegated to only a few songs, which allows the great synth textures to shine through. I would love to see this shoegaze/ambient style expounded upon, please?


  • AH006
    Sora Shima - Distancing EP

    This is a nice and dense release of dark, purely ambient drones - perfect for those lonely night drives when all the city lights have faded. Simple, yet still moving.

    Verdict: 8/10

  • AH008
    loafeye - drinking rosewater

    While the whimsical and carefree sound of loafeye (I can't help but love that name) is overall rather pleasant, it definitely knocks a few rocks over the precipice of cheesiness. Good, but not impressive.

    Verdict: 6.5/10

  • AH009
    celer - Ariill

    With just two 30-minute tracks to make their point, celer seem pretty confident in their style, and for good reason. Ariill is a relaxed work revolving around deconstructed piano drones that are moreso constant than progressing, taking a firmly ambient stance that suits background accompaniment as much as focused listening. I would prefer to hear some sort of advancement throughout the songs, yet this is still a satisfying listen.

    Verdict: 7/10

Second Layer: AH011-AH020

  • AH011
    GABRIEL - Good old Days

    Good old Days has a strong Wisp feel to it, with rich analog synth work alongside slice-of-life samples and IDM-light beats, so it gets a pretty quick thumbs up from me. As the cover art might hint, there's a pervasive beach feel throughout, although it's not heavy; in fact, I think he could have built off of that a bit more. Some tracks feature very self-aware lo-fi elements, showing that GABRIEL definitely knows what he's doing.

    Verdict: 8.5/10

  • AH013
    Sarin Sunday - The Lonely Hike

    Although The Lonely Hike begins with the delightfully retro "Light Fragments", giving the impression that Sarin Sunday is ready to take things off on an energizing romp through old science film-fueled dance territory, things just aren't so. That's not to say that this isn't a nice album, because it certainly is. According to the unwritten Archaic MO, Sarin Sunday plays a soothing, minimalistic form of electronica, riding out its simple beats with more engaging melodies. Pretty par for the label.

    Verdict: 7.5/10

  • AH018
    Ophibre - REFERENCE

    One long track on show here, progressing from a formless mishmash of samples to a more focused shimmering drone. Pleasant, but the beginning half is somewhat aimless, and the second part isn't good enough to make it worth sitting through.

    Verdict: 5/10

  • AH019
    Saturday Index - Partly Cloudy ep

    Another interesting release (something about their ep's, eh?), with four lovely synth tracks by Saturday Index and three remixes of "Partly Cloudy" by other Archaic artists that are actually worth listening to. Nostalgic and calm, true bliss-out music.

    Verdict: 8/10

  • AH020
    Celer - Red Seals

    Composed by a Californian couple, this musical portrayal of red tides off the coast. One of the few purely ambient releases here, Red Seals is sadly not a very compelling listen. While the textures and brief samples are of good quality, there is little variation or movement to be had, making it a large effort to last all the way through both half-hour-long songs. Similar to their previous work Ariill, yet a step backwards.

    Verdict: 5/10

Third Layer: AH021-AH030

  • AH023
    Heroines of the U.S.S.R - Spring Snow ep

    Another ambient dronescape, and what a scape it is! Thick sleets of soft yet scraggy synths billow on these four songs, building into each other, distorting through their own white cloud of decay. Crackles of static pop beneath the mass, anchoring the sound like tiny footsteps in snow. This release really captures the thick and isolated feel of being in a snow storm and also manages to keep enough momentum and variation to make it a pleasure to stick all the way through. Highly recommended!

    Verdict: 8.5/10

  • AH024
    Experience. Hold. - March Forth

    More akin to the post-rock-fueled manipulations of World's End Girlfriend than minimalistic electronica, the material on March Forth is busy with the skitter of susurrating beats, acoustic lullabies, and plenty of memories. Although it lacks the dynamic impact of World's End Girlfriend, this entry by Experience. Hold. is still very worth your while.

    Verdict: 8/10

  • AH029
    Counterspark - Existence EP

    Much like the cover art, this release is a simple work of warm, hazy synths. It's definitely soothing on the ears, yet without any real direction or development, the songs never quite pulled me in. Should be great as background music, though.

    Verdict: 6/10

  • AH030
    Eluder - Drift

    More warm ambience, but this time there are plenty of layers and movements to get you through. Most certainly supports the mood set by the song names and the cover art with weightless ambient currents that your mind will float away with.

    Verdict: 7.5/10

Fourth Layer: AH031-current day

  • AH031
    Orange Crush - Autumn Reflections

    Ah, the return of Orange Crush. Autumn Reflections is pretty much a direct sequel to The Fields - it's better mixed, with a calmer, more subdued take on his style. I strongly prefer this out of the two albums.

    Verdict: 8/10

  • AH032
    Melorman - Expressing Thoughts

    I really like the music on these three songs (why is this so short, god), but the first one is slightly ruined by the pointless presence of womanly...bleating, like it was some sort of goddamn club trance song. Maybe e-heads will love it with all five of their remaining brain cells. This is the last of the current releases, so it gets a bit of snark to finish off. Good few songs, but needs a real release to tell if Melorman has enough melor in his diet.

    Verdict: 7/10

  • AH032
    Electricwest - MOTH3R/R3MIXES

    Oops, looks like Melorman already lost the shiny "new" title, as Archaic have put up something since I last visited their site. That something is this something, which is apparently a something that used to cost money to appropriate for one's listening, but now no longer does. Just because. And what do we have here? Surprisingly, an almost dubstep-like concoction of slow-churning bass dub, glitchy beats, and expansive atmospheres. It all blends expertly, a bit like what I imagine Boxcutter would sound like in the hands of Burial's mastermind. Too good, too good. R3MIXES is a new take on the album with covers by other Archaic artists, most of which are decent but not comparable - I say go ahead and skip downloading this portion.

    Verdict: 8/10


is this your life? said...

Ok, this isn't a typical review, obviously, but Auto gave it the go-ahead and here it is. I've taken an interest in Creative Commons labels recently, and wrote up this with the plan of doing more in the future.

autothrall said...

I really liked it. The format looks great. Rather than an aggregate score in the tag I'd have posted all the little 'win's and 'epic win's, but that's about all I'd change.

autothrall said...

Also, I'm very involved in Creative Commons. My new album will probably be operating under CC, and I read a lot of fiction using it.

is this your life? said...

Wait, what do you mean about posting all of the win's and epic win's? like, 4 wins, 7 epic wins, etc? I'm not really following, I guess. And yeah, the format turned out well - I had to do it all by hand on the original Facebook posting, so I'm glad it transferred.

I totally heart CC, glad to hear you use it. Hm, have any fiction to recommend, or places to browse? I don't suppose Clark Ashton Smith has made it to CC yet, that would be fantastic...

Dreadkommander Nekrokreuz said...

Fantastic review, very cool idea.