Various Artists (Eilean 92)

Eilean’s last release of 2018 is also the first release to grace their winter season. So have your scarves ready and put your winter hats on…we’re going into the deep midwinter. The Various Artists compilation features a line-up of twenty-six (!) artists and seventeen tracks, culminating in seventy-three minutes of mouth-watering music. All of these tracks are brand new, exclusive, and previously unreleased.

A Home For Ghosts, Amuleto, Aries Mond, Benjamin Finger, Ben Mc Elroy, Cyril Secq & Sylvain Chauveau, Dramavinile, Emmanuel Witzthum, Foresteppe, Hannah Zhalih Mickunas, Ian Hawgood, Lake Mary, Leigh Toro, Ljerke, Srúti, The Prairie Lines, and Xu make up the artists on this compilation, and, as you can see, it’s another strong release from the label. Foresteppe’s ‘I Will Not Fake My Way Through Life’, with its gleaming melodic incoherencies and distressed wobbles which fight for continual balance, is an experimental track that grows into something larger than the sum of its parts. It could very well document 2018’s mantra: that of instability and uncertainty…looking at you, UK.

Melodies fail and begin to short circuit, and a crumpled bass goes south quickly, with both sounds converging to create a captivating piece. As you’d expect, there’s a lot of mileage with this release. Going MIA within its frigid labyrinth, which is as dark as a December evening, is pure joy. Along the way, you’ll encounter wood-smoked folk melodies and a downtrodden mist which trails over the tips of the trainers and settles just above a messy spool of leaves. There’s a beautiful contrast between the innocent and the devilish: gentle melodic tracks tinkle up above the world so high, like a mobile over an infant’s crib, and others revel in a spell of rainy weather, of incomprehensible chaos and gleeful ruin. Somehow, the tracks sketch a lifeline, running from infancy to adulthood, moving from childhood’s relative simplicity and its episodes of unabashed joy to the OMG-WTF moments that sum up the majority of adult life.

Spring to winter.

But all of them radiate a stunning amount of colour. Emmanuel Witzthum’s ‘Soul Cathedral’ is a glint of Christmas as angelic voices do more than enough to rival a midnight mass. The drifting vocals instil feelings of supernatural peace and reassurance even in times where all is dark, and it lands at the perfect time. Even in the harsh winter months, when light leaves early and animals hibernate, a quiet beauty settles over the land for those still awake to the season, for those still carrying on. It’s within a whiteout of snow and within a speech bubble of exhaled breath. This is a wonderfully calm piece; it’s mind-clearing, actually.

2018 was another impressive year for Eilean, and this compilation puts it all into perspective. Supposedly, it’s the most wonderful time of the year (although, in December, music journalists find themselves just as busy as old Saint Nick). The year-end lists are written, and the compilations are released. But this collection looks forward more than it glances behind, its release marking a new winter season for the label while also paving the way for a long, blue January and a frosty February. Collating these artists and placing them under one ambient wing, this collection is both a year-closer and a season-opener.

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