Chronicles I is a far more concise experience than the lengthy 7th Plain albums it sources from but it never feels insubstantial. The unreleased material is easily on a par with everything that has gone before it, which raises a lingering question that we’ll probably have to wait until 2017 to have at least partially answered: how many Chronicles will there be in this series?
Overlooking legendary material both old and new is becoming something of a bad habit for this reviewer, a particularly glaring example being the entire oeuvre of Luke Slater’s The 7th Plain. Slater began releasing these ambient strains of techno at the tail-end of Warp’s Artificial Intelligence era, and I’m ashamed to admit that while I picked up a copy of My Yellow Wise Rug on a recommendation from my favorite independent record store at the time, I have no recollection of how much I listened to it back then before it fell to the bottom the listening pile and stayed there.
It wasn’t until fresh attention was drawn to The 7th Plain by Ostgut Ton’s new sub-label A-TON that I realized the answer was clearly, more than I remember, given how memories and nostalgia came flooding back. Forgetting about The 7th Plain was a huge mistake, one amplified by the discovery that The 4 Cornered Room in particular is considered by many to be almost without equal in the genre. Ooops.
So what exactly is this Chronicles I thing then? A-TON’s press release and liner notes are keen to emphasize that they consider it less a compilation and more a re-framing of 7th Plain tracks spliced with a hefty dose of previously unreleased material for good measure. At first it seems odd that A-TON have chosen to release this way, rather than just re-issue My Yellow Wise Rug and The 4 Cornered Room with bonus tracks, but frankly there’s something rather lacklustre about that prospect, particularly when both albums are still extremely easy to obtain. Sure the bonus tracks would be interesting, but there’s always that “tacked-on” feel to those kinds of bonus discs that sets the material apart from the rest. In some cases that’s probably absolutely right and fair as tracks are often “previously unreleased” for good reason: they don’t fit with the rest of the album material, the artist didn’t consider them to be as good, or simply didn’t want them out in the public eye.
Essentially what A-TON have done here is proven this not to be the case with this previously unreleased 7th Plain material, curating a fresh new—and in comparison to the original albums, far more concise—experience that really works a complete album in its own right. There’ll inevitably be some whining from purists who think these new releases don’t work as well as the original, but give them a fair shot.
One of only three tracks taken from his first two albums, “Boundaries” from My Yellow Wise Rug is a perfect opener to Chronicles I, the spacey ambience created by the Global Communication-esque pads, washes and subterranean sonic booms tempered by a squidgy, melodic hook and repeating horn flare that perfectly embodies Slater’s talent for total atmospheric immersion. The production and arrangement of these manifold elements are handled with such flair that “Boundaries” belies its underlying complexity.
An odd inclusion follows in the form of what is actually a remix of Ken Ishii’s “Extra” (from his excellent 1995 album Jelly Tones) rather than an original 7th Plain track, but the glossy production, shuffling rhythms and cloud-surfing sound palette is one hundred percent Slater that feels perfectly at home on Chronicles I. Hopefully more remixes will appear on future volumes. The ambient outro “Grace” from The 4 Cornered Room is re-positioned here as a gentle, calming interlude between that and the last reissued track “Surface Bound”, the former a lush loop with springy keys and minimal sweeping outro strings, the latter a mass of inner city power plant hum, whirr and bleep.
From then on it’s all previously unreleased material that kicks off with “Super 8″‘s warbling, ethereal vocal drones and typically spacey FX, Detroit Escalator Company percussion and piano keys that later dissolve into discordant unease. “T Funk States” ramps Chronicles I up to some top tier, dancefloor friendly techno, more closely aligned with Slater’s harder aliases but is followed by the decidedly odd “Slip 7 Sideways” which, whilst as atmospheric as the best of the 7th Plain catalog, is the only track that sticks out as being somewhat misplaced. The vinyl crackle, loping snares and smeared, run-out groove melody are more in line with a horror movie soundtrack than Slater’s usual spacey ambience. Then the retro-futurist, blooming pads and sound-bed of tingling white noise of “Chords Are Dirty” close Chronicles I out on a blissful and suitably uneasy high.
Chronicles I is a far more concise experience than the lengthy 7th Plain albums it sources from but it never feels insubstantial. The unreleased material is easily on a par with everything that has gone before it, which raises a lingering question that we’ll probably have to wait until 2017 to have at least partially answered: how many Chronicles will there be in this series? If the intention is to at some point re-issue everything included on My Yellow Wise Rug and The 4 Cornered Room bolstered with bonus material, given that only three of a total of twenty-two tracks are included here, the implication is: quite a few. Of course that all depends on so many unknown factors, including how much more unreleased material is out there. The cancelled Playing With Fools album is supposed to contain another eleven new tracks, but only a few people clearly know if these new tracks are sourced from that album or not.
Finally, the release information for Chronicles I is a little sparse on detail when it comes to what you get in the package, and since this is actually pretty generous it’s worth covering in brief here. Everything has been remastered from the original ¼-inch tapes for these newly packaged editions, which sound exceptionally good pressed across two slabs of black vinyl housed in poly-lined archival inner bags. The 7mm-spined sleeve features gorgeous artwork by Viron Erol Vert, and in a nice little flourish contains CD-sized tri-fold leaflet with liner notes and a Bandcamp code allowing you to download a digital edition of the release in the platform’s usual array of compressed and lossless formats. Or you can opt for the regular CD edition in a digipak if you prefer.
Chronicles I is available on A-TON.