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Rune Grammofon celebrate their 100th release with a special compilation album.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Rune Grammofon celebrate their 100th release with a special compilation album.

Tim Owen looks at the Norwegian independent's special compilation "Twenty Centuries Of Stony Sleep". He also examines the latest release by the label's flagship group, Supersilent.

Various Artists
Twenty Centuries of Stony Sleep
(Rune Grammofon)

Supersilent
10
(Rune Grammofon)

The Rune Grammofon label marks the milestone of its hundredth release with a single-CD sampler of (mostly) exclusive tracks from artists currently on its roster and a mini-bonanza of archival Supersilent material.

The sampler is titled, in run(e)ic fashion, “Twenty Centuries of Stony Sleep”, which you will doubtless recognise as a line from William Butler Yeats’ poem The Second Coming: “twenty centuries of stony sleep / Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle”, which I suppose sums up the Rune Grammofon house style pretty well, since most of its artists create music that can be downright disquieting, and yet is often subtle enough to lull. The artists represented are Alog, The Low Frequency In Stereo, Ultralyd, Espen Eriksen Trio, In The Country, Bushman’s Revenge, Hilde Marie Kjersem, Stian Westerhus, Maja Ratkje, Jenny Hval, Puma, Deathprod, and Supersilent.
In the fertile cross-currents that keep the distances between these artists in flux, any notional categorization is effectively dissolved. It’s a strong, coherent collection, and considerably superior to the average label sampler. Of course, it’s by no means comprehensive. A new signing, guitarist Stian Westerhaus, is represented both solo and as a member of the trio Puma, while one of my favourite Rune Grammofon acts, Scorch Trio, are not represented. But the album is, more importantly, a satisfyingly balanced listening experience. For every prejudice confirmed (yes, I could do without the thoroughly inoffensive rock-lite of Bushman’s Revenge) there is a reminder to check out something unaccountably neglected (on my part, for instance, the supremely, rigorously eccentric vocalizations of Maja Ratkje) or an introduction to something wonderful (the sublime trio of Espen Eriksen, perhaps, for the jazz aficionado).

The “Twenty Centuries” compilation culminates in a Supersilent track, “c-7.1”, which probably originates from the Supersilent 7 era (I think c-7 indicates that the current compilation is the seventh to feature a Supersilent exclusive, not that it is necessarily related to their seventh album). This era saw the group at their zenith.

After the magnificent affirmation of purpose represented by Supersilent’s first album following drummer Jarle Vespestad’s departure, “Supersilent 9” (you can read my review elsewhere on this site), I had high hopes for the next. Perhaps it’s no surprise that I was to be disappointed. “Supersilent 10” is a fragmented affair. It stitches together some of the more restrained moments from more than one session, though it was mostly recorded at an Oslo studio, in a session that actually pre-dates the one that resulted in “Supersilent 9”. The new album features some of both the band’s most darkly lyrical moments, and some of their most eerie soundscapes. Deathprod is at his most abstrusely autumnal, Arve Hentiksen at his most plaintive. There is a corresponding move towards a more acoustic sound, with Ståle Storløkken playing grand piano for the first time with Supersilent. The result is, I must admit, rather exquisite. It hangs together well, though the tracks from the “Supersilent 8” sessions disrupt the overall mood even as they add bite and variety. Track “10.5”, for instance, is an edit of an earlier compilation track, “c-6.1”, and is evidently an out-take from “Supersilent 8”.

“Supersilent 10” gives the long-term Supersilent collector another twist on an established formula which is starting to sound a bit too comfortable, and seems to be an exercise in marking time. Certainly, it’s the first Supersilent album to sound unnecessary. And yet there is a deluxe version of “Twenty Centuries of Stony Sleep” that contains a vinyl-only album, “Supersilent 100”, with live recordings from a concert held in Paris ten years ago, one year after Supersilent “9” and “10” were recorded. Which makes it seem particularly interesting. And that, in turn, makes it particularly irritating that I may never get to hear it, since the box set package is limited to 100 copies, and currently retails from the Rune Grammofon website for 990,00 Norwegian krone. If you get to hear it, do let us know what you think.

And wait, that’s not all; yet another Supersilent album, “Supersilent 11”, has already been released. It consists of further recordings taken from the sessions for “Supersilent 8” (2005). Again it’s vinyl-only, so again (having gladly pensioned off my decks long ago) I’m unlikely to be reviewing it here.

Tim’s star ratings;

“Twenty Centuries Of Stony Sleep”-Four Stars

“Supersilent 10”-Three stars


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