- Ekster is Dutch for magpie, and the Antwerp label has lived up to the name, scratching intriguing baubles out of the loam of the experimental underground. Active since 2013, the label has worked with some names you might recognise—TCF, DMX Krew, Ssaliva. There's a chance you encountered Ritmische Bezinning by cofounder Hiele, a suite of hyper-fresh electronica and one of last year's highlights. But Ekster's curatorial skill is best showcased on their EXO compilations, which feature a host of names—many of them unknown—and present a sly, fleet-footed vision of ambient music.
The third in the series is the weightiest, mostly thanks to guest spots from the parallel ambient crew around Amsterdam labels Music From Memory and Melody As Truth. Jonny Nash, Gigi Masin and Suzanne Kraft offer three soft-focus compositions near the record's end. Kraft's is the highlight, its hesitant opening leading to a gorgeous aquatic pay-off. All three tracks are good, but their blissful moods and extended structures set them apart from the rest of the compilation.
To see what I mean, take this three-track run earlier in the comp. Rembrandt Redandt's "Blankenberge," at a minute-and-change long, is little more than a winsome twinkle of an idea. It leads into Soft Focus's crystalline "Momentum," which is energetic but dissolves like a thin mist, and then Aloïs R.'s "Twee Beren," 41 seconds of a child talking over cute scraps of glockenspiel. All three tracks are short, strange and smartly realised, and all three names are unknown to Discogs outside of this compilation. (Maybe they're aliases of established producers?)
Most of the record unfolds in this fashion. Familiar producers make solid appearances—Polysick, formerly of Planet Mu, offers gorgeous piano miniature "Misolidio," and Hiele delivers on "Birdwatching" and "Buchla For Sunday". (Hiele's tracks, like many here, do "experimental" with fuzzy edges and a humble attitude, a quality Ekster shares with other Belgian labels like Vlek and Meakusma.) But your ears are just as likely to be caught by producers yet to make waves much beyond the Antwerp underground.
Like Milan W., with the sparkling arps of "Glassjes," or the folksy fingerpicking of Elko Blijweert and Roger 3000. Or the strange, jazzy takes on modern day exotica, a sound which dominated EXO2 and is represented here by Hantrax (on the noirish "Walking With Raven") and Fregnacciarius. The latter's "Ferragosto" starts off as ersatz Miles Davis, all cool chord daubs and impressionistic flute. Then a field recording enters—of some public event, presumably the Italian public holiday of the track's title. The shouts, whistles and clapping gradually disturb the closed space of the music, as if the two worlds are collapsing into one another. It's a curious gem on a compilation full of them.
01. Hiele - Birdwatching
02. Polysick - Misolidio
03. Rembrandt Redandt - Blankenberge
04. Soft Focus - Momentum
05. Aloïs R. - Twee Beren
06. Milan W. - Glaasjes
07. Fregnacciarius - Ferragosto
08. Elko Blijweert - Verletztes Reh
09. Hantrax - Walking With Raven
10. Jonny Nash - Head Is Clearer
11. Gigi Masin - Starshine
12. Suzanne Kraft - Still Sick
13. Hiele - Buchla For Sunday
14. Componium Ensemble - Kats
15. Roger 3000 - Nuptiale