Various Artists - Sharpen, Moving

  • Ineffable music from an essential UK label.
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  • Let's face it: reviewing music can feel like an uphill battle. Some say you should write about records as if you were recommending them to a friend: casually, passionately, focussing on the best bits. I find that works for simple or linear music. Or music easily categorised by genre. But what about the records that defy tags and descriptors? How do you write about music that leaves you floundering for words? This is the challenge posed by the latest Timedance compilation. Released at the end of 2020 as part of the Bristol label's fifth anniversary, Sharpen, Moving collects 12 spellbinding cuts of varying mood and tempo by a mix of mainstays (Bruce, Ploy) and newcomers (Happa, Peter Van Hoesen). Each track is a world unto its own, a fresh, writhing formation of drums, pads, synths and bass. Alien sounds prevail and the left turns keep coming. Classic genre tags, like words, feel insufficient. In another time, before the tag rightly came under fire, this compilation may have been labelled "UK bass," a term so vague it became not only pointless but counterproductive, shorthand for how impossible this mutant music was to categorise. (Full disclosure: I've definitely leant on "UK bass" in past reviews.) "There will always be flashes of brilliance in the pre-existing genres we have," Timedance boss Batu told Crack Magazine recently. "But there's so many other possibilities we haven't considered yet." This experimental streak is writ large across Sharpen, Moving, which is techno in essence—dark, clubby—but essence only. The energy veers from sinister to violent to outright barmy. At the same time, there's structure: the compilation flows as a whole, with a long, fierce mid-section bookended by sedate intros and outros. Most of the tracks would rock a dance floor—provided the crowd comes open-minded. The main challenge in writing about Sharpen, Moving is the music's shapeshifting nature. Rhythms splutter, break and take new forms. Sounds of all tones and timbre whizz in and out of focus, with new ones appearing with every listen. How to do justice to tracks as rich and restless as, say, "SYX" by Batu? Still, let's zero in on some particularly mind-blowing moments, such as Bruce's turn as a techno Jamie T on "Longshot" or the synth lead on Ploy's "Snorkelling," which evokes a fighter jet trapped in a whirlpool. The vicious drums on "L9T" by the techno luminary Peter Van Hoesen rip through a canopy of noises, including distant caterwauls. My favourite sound of all is another wailing of sorts, this time drowsy, on the standout finale "Lapse" by Via Maris. Due credit must go to Batu, who put Sharpen, Moving together and whose razor-sharp ear and uncompromising vision have made Timedance the essential UK label of the moment. In a note posted to Instagram, he said the whole thing took him "bloody ages" and that he "probably [tested] the patience of everyone involved." I love the image of Batu, a known taskmaster when it comes to giving feedback, engaging in lengthy back and forths with the likes of Bruce and Peter Van Hoesen. It's a great way to run a label. Here's to five more years of ineffable tunes.
  • Tracklist
      01. Kit Seymour - Lost Caller 02. Batu - SYX 03. Mang & GRAN - Live4evr 04. Peter Van Hoesen - L9T 05. Ploy - Snorkelling 06. Bruce - Longshot 07. Akiko Haruna - Die And Retry 08. Happa - 15Three 09. Metrist - Total Paper 10. Cleyra - Shafted 11. Nico - Ventana 12. Via Maris - Lapse