Even though most people don’t realize it, the Touch label has been kicking around for twenty-five years now. I personally didn’t realize it until I looked through their complete discography the other day, but they started out releasing cassette magazines (the first one was called Feature Mist) back in the early 80s and have continued on for two and a half decades, growing into the highly reputable and boundary-pushing label that they are today. Touch 25is a lengthy compilation that includes exclusive tracks both past and current artists, held together with field recordings from label-head Jon Wozencraft and a booklet of his beautiful photography.
Although I love a lot of artists on the Touch label, I’m also one of those fans who just doesn’t care for a certain swath of their discography (mainly their noisier material). Because of that, and the inclusion of all the artists on this release, Touch 25 isn’t exactly a smooth ride for me, and I think that’s most likely the point. Considering some of their past work, the contributions from both BJ Nilsen and Chris Watson are all fairly subdued, with the opener from Nilsen creating a nice lead-in with field recordings of water, while the two tracks from Watson capture movement (more water and a railway), but neither get too loud.
Pan Sonic is fully prepared to drop the noise, though, and they do with the blistering “Slovakian Rauta,” a dense piece of noisy blasts and gut-rumbling low-end. Field recordings also play a large part on the release, from the shorter, interstitial pieces from Wozencraft, to “Spring Fever” from Biosphere, a track that captures howling wolves (or something similarly eerie) and features none of his usual electronic gurglings. Fennesz’s “Tree” is a short slab of fuzzy guitar pickings, but doesn’t really bring much new to the table in terms of his own work.
The real standouts on the compilation are the longer pieces from Oren Ambarchi and Jóhann Jóhannsson. The former is a minimal, but lovely piece that continues along the lines of his great output from the Grapes From The Estate album, while the latter finds Jóhannsson creating a spooky epic that mixes ring modulated Hammond organ and some droning violincello. Philip Jeck’s “Hindquarters” is another welcome addition, a crackling, squirming edit of several live recorded pieces from different venues that oozes with all his familiar mood. Because of the weird flow of the release (a majority of the tracks are under a minute and a half), the nearly eighty-minute disc is somewhat hard to really sink into. That said, it is a great overview of a label that seems intent on really pushing the boundaries of electronic music, both in the past and in the future.