As we leave behind a decade that saw the decline (if not near extinction) of the indie record label, those few survivors it seems are faced with certain existential questions. When, for less than the price of Friday night’s bar tab, practically any band or single recording can find it’s way onto the downloadable markets of iTunes and it’s ilk, and any small time musical flunky with an email can spam out copies of their songs to try and get the attention of blogs and other media (and boy do they spam), what is the roll of the indie record label here now in the future?
I suppose that question can be pawned off to someone else but for our purposes now, Gold Robot Records (a local Bay Area indie record label responsible for releases by railcars, lady genius, and others), having recently released the compilation Designed Entropy, at least has found a way to stay relevant in spite of the push towards the superfluous. Here perhaps is a bit of saving grace for the small label; it can serve as a road sign to local acts. Releasing compilations can be a great way to pull together talent and focus attention (often spread thin in this musical landscape) in appropriate directions.
Designed Entropy brings together three San Francisco acts and one Portland band for a tight sample of some great (mostly) electronic music. Further, being released as a 7inch (a process a bit more involved than throwing your rubbish onto the internet) Gold Robot Records has provided tactility, a fading quality of the album experience, to the listener. Though enough for now of this mumbo-jumbo, on to the meat of the EP: the music.
Side A of Designed Entropy features two tracks, the first "Exchange Among Systems" by Bomarr and the second "Karate Eyes" by Copy (Portland’s single contribution to the album). Both tracks sound as though they originated in the electronic music era of Kraftwerk. There is a certain simplicity to the tracks, built as a series of minimal electronic loops that, while in actuality were probably fastidiously arranged, sound as though they could have been composed on a very basic 70s synthesizer.
Though not from San Francisco, Copy’s contribution to this album might be my favorite. There is a certain levity and cheerfulness to it that is so sincere it demands a smile in spite of any cynicism (a welcome difference in quality than what I normally am found listening to). All in all the elemental sound in these songs makes them stand out in a genre in which simplicity far to often falls rapidly into the mundane.
If side A recalls the sounds of Kraftwerk, side B resembles much more the electronic sounds of Joy Division and New Order. Meanest Man Contest’s track “Takitani Edit” pounds out a dark piano riff over a subtle electronic mix with the vocals sounding something of a cross between Ian Curtis and Nick Cave. It’s a nice dark turn from the levity of the previous side.
A soothing ethereal finale Roman Ruins’ “Plea for Performance” rounds out the EP in a graceful outro. Owing much of its sound to New Order, “Plea for Performance” sounds as though it was recorded at the heyday of New Wave.
Certainly this EP, compiled by Gold Robot Records, is a good sampling of Bay Area electronica. It gives a good taste of what these bands, which may not have come so quickly to my attention, have to offer. As a series too, Designed Entropy promises to continue providing us with samples of different local artists, and hopefully provide Gold Robot with the relevance in needs to stay around.