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V/A - Winter 2002-2003

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Artist: V/A

Album: Winter 2002-2003

Label: Notenuf

Review date: Nov. 19, 2003

More than a sampler showcasing the best bands you’ve never heard from the country where buildings have no stairs and distance is gauged in miles not blocks, Notenuf’s Winter 2002-03 plays like the soundtrack to its namesake. Perhaps it’s the cover of bare trees and a frosty sky, perhaps it’s the atmosphere set by the first few tracks of the disc, but one simply can’t help but imagine the presence of expansive fields covered in white, the burning crunch of ground, the hardening of the air and the trees, the bitter empty space of winter. Once suggested to the imagination, the tenor of the entire album follows this mood, with crackling electronic textures, muted fuzz distortions on open guitar chords, and warm synthesizer drops.

Expansive glitch-pop pieces appear in several places on the album, each with its own atmosphere and current. The Buddy System (an ironic solo project by Notenuf label founder Kurt Kothals) displays a piece from his solo album Transitions. Austin’s T. Gureckis traces piano keys across a blank sky, building textures and beats above and below the forever lively ivory, and descends the marching parts to a quiet hush. Jacob Green offers a Caribbean-influenced piece of shuffling texture, the intermittent chirping of computers/birds chipping through the warm haze of a repetitious Calypso drum motif as the skies parade around his “Island”.

Dead Whale Tide dwells momentarily on the solemn, but they explode into a swarm of melody, sounding like something Billy Corgan might have sung in one of his Joy Division trances. Stepping up the energy another notch is A Tiger Called Lovesick, who shred their low guitar strings with more down-strummed riffs that recall Bedhead when they really rocked out.

Somewhat more familiar electronic artists also grace the compilation. Tomlab and Sparkling Beatnik records’ vet Jon Sheffield gives the Four Tet-ish “Where’s Dakota?”, an electronic collage brimming with activity in a glassy wash of digital cuts and slides, and Audio Dregs’ Inkblot (Texan Jeremy Ballard) plays a pleasant, lilting ornamentation of steady 4/4 beats and electronic flourishes.

The Notenuf folks sweep through New Mexico for a lo-fi shoegaze outfit called Gingerbread Patriots, who sizzle on, “Beetlebludd”. It’s mellow and wavy, and nothing you wouldn’t have heard on a Slowdive album, but it fits nicely in the album’s stream of consciousness..

As one of the first projects on the Notenuf record label, this sampler is a perfect introduction to a diverse and burgeoning population of artists in the middle half of the country. As an album in its own right, Winter 2002-03 is a peaceful and apt prelude to Winter ’04.

By Joel Calahan

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