Kranky records is a label that has both delighted and confounded me. I started taking the label name as a guarantee of quality after purchasing the reissued CD of Godspeed You Black Emperor's debut that was issued by kranky (you can check out my post on GYBE HERE) I figured that if they would want to release something this good there must be more good stuff on the label? I subsequently purchased the Pan American debut which I then discovered was linked to Labradford so I bought their "A Stable Reference" album and....well, read on!
Hailing from Richmond, Virginia I had no idea what these guys would be like when I purchased "A Stable Reference" but I fell in love with the band immediately and proceeded to seek out the rest of their material. To say Labradford have an ethereal sound is understating it, for a start there are little drums on the majority of their material, if any. Their sound in general is atmospheric but it's as much a "creep up your spine" atmosphere as it is warm and beautiful. Keyboards hummmm found sounds fade in and out of the mix coupled with some beautiful and spacious guitar strumming that puts me in mind of some sort of spaced out, slow motion Ennio Morricone, It's exactly this ability to create dark and light at the same time that endear me to them the opening track "Phantom Channel Crossing"on their self titled 3rd album with it's deep cello sound, underpinned by a beating heart type pulse and what sounds like a knife being sharpened and the sound of someone dragging chains,then add what sound like someone torturing a violin! Whilst this made sound an unholy mess and also terrifying, by the time the soaring string sounds and organ and gentle vocal of the second track "Mid-Range" arrive you have forgotten why you were ever frightened in the first place!
Don't get me wrong Labradford are a great listen, however a significant portion of their work is made up of more drone like pieces which I would probably call "ambient", but still with that hint of darkness. 1997's "Mi Media Naranja" is a vast progression from thie first 3 albums, taking the Morricone strings and even adding some proper live drumming. Opening track "S" creating a sound that Godspeed You Black Emperor would later make their own and perfect. There is also some more dubbed out pieces, whilst still being undoubtedly Labradford the songs on this album tend to effect more of a mood of melancholy than dread closing track "P" having parts that are almost a dead ringer for Fleetwood Mac;s "Albatross"! For me this is the pick of the 6 albums whilst some of my favourite Labradford tracks may be on other albums this one for me is the most consistent. By the time of final albums "E Luxo So" & "Fixed:::Content" however, Labradford had really cleaned up their sound, to these ears there is a far more minimal approach to the song craft, with more traditional instrumentation such as strings and piano playing a large part of "E Luxo So". Whilst it's still an enjoyable listen it's definitely less compelling for me as it just seems more conventional and has less of that atmosphere and more of a soundtrack feel to it. This is even more apparent of "Fixed:::Content" which has an even more minimal approach than it's predecessor stripping away many of the deeper layers of sound for a cleaner feel and again for me falls into more soundtrack/background music whilst not a bad album it's the one I listen to the least.
So let's deal with the Labradford links. Below there are links to all 6 Labradford albums all ripped from my own CD's at 320 KBPS plus a further file "Singles" Whilst Labradford weren't hugely prolific on the singles fronT,they did release a few. These are "Everlast" 7", "Julius/ Columna De La Independencia" 7", "Scenic Recovery" 10" and "The Kanahek Incident Volume 3" A split release with Stars Of The Lid from a series of 3 x 12" singles on Trance Syndicate records where experimental/post rock bands take a crack at covering/remixing/remaking one of each others tracks in this case Labradford remixing Stars Of The Lid's "Texas" and Stars Of The Lid Remixing Labradfords "Virginia" I have included both sides here as I don't fully understand the concept ha ha so figured you might as well have both especially as at clocking in at 21 minutes the Stars of The Lid version is a marvellous piece of pulsating drone! As for the other singles "Everlast" & "Scenic Recovery" appear on "Prazision LP" & "Labradford" respectively. to my ears the vinyl versions sound slightly different but could just be the rips I have however both sides have B-sides that are not on albums and I include this pack to make it a complete discography.
As I said above over the last 3 albums Labradford released there seemed to be a swing towards less electronics and more traditional instrumentation, there was still occasionally those spacious dubbed out beats and electronics raising their head here and there, though not as much as on the first 3 albums, I can only put this down to the influence of one Mark Nelson 1/3 of Labradford. During the era from Labradford's 4th album "Mi Media Naranja" in 1997 up to their last album "Fixed:::Content" in 2001 Mark Nelson started releasing solo music under the name Pan American. Now firstly Mark is still recording and releasing music as Pan American to date, but as this post is primarily about Labradford I am only covering the era of Pan American whilst Labradford were still going, after that I felt Pan American became less compelling and more minimal,these releases I cover here, as you will read, definitely belong with this post.
I was absolutely floored by Pan American's 1997's Self Titled Debut. Whilst Labradford shifted towards more traditional sounds, Mark nelson was taking the dubbed out,.creepier end of Labradford and creating whole albums around this sound. The whispered vocals are still there but Mark has taken them and some of the strummed guitar I loved so much and welded them to an electronic, dub like template creating music that whilst not quite as dark as some of the material on the early Labradford albums still has an atmosphere like tha,t but is far more compelling and definitely makes me want to melt into my sofa!
There is not a single track on the first Pan American album I would skip, it's been a personal favourite for 23 years since I first picked it up, from the very Labradford sounding opening track "Starts Friday", to the call and response rhythm of "Remapping" to the stunning and majestic "The Dark Nest" This album envelops the listener all at once with deep bass and gorgeous textures that just send you drifiting off into another place but not in a "background" sense it still commands your attention! This formula would continue over second, double album "360 Business 360 Bypass" however on this album the pieces are longer and given more space to develop and have a stronger sense of melody and a less dark touch than it's predecessor. I have given you both albums here but during the 1997 - 2001 period Pan American released a 12 and a 10" EP as well (these are covered in "EP's" link below) Firstly we have 1999's "Quarry" 10" a 2 part song split over 2 sides "Quarry A" would not have sounded out of place on the debut album having that same dubbed out spacey bass heavy feel but "Quarry B" harks back to early Labradford it is a very dark and ambient piece entirely beatless and will possibly give you a bit of a chill up your spine. The last release for Pan American during this period was the "East Coast Bugs/Esso" 12" presented in a bright yellow sleeve with very little info save band name track titles etc this release 100% stopped me in my tracks!
("East Coast Bugs/Esso" 12")
If you hadn't guessed already I like these guys a lot, below you will find both albums and Both EP's if you like Labradford and haven't heard Pan American then I'd be surprised, but if you haven't then I say get this lot downloaded immediately!
AIX EM KLEMM
This brings us neatly to our final piece of Labradford related goodness. I only discovered this album recently and seeing as it's been out since 2000 I'm surprised becasue this is one of those "supergroup" collaboration type deals featuring Adam Wiltzie (Ex - Stars Of The Lid & currently, A Winged Victory For The Sullen) and Robert Donne (Ex Labradford has played in Anjou, Spokane & Cristal to name a few) I am not gonna go overboard here this one off colaboration album is really a sum of it's parts it sounds exactly how you'd expect, a cross between Stars of The Lid's bright and beautiful drone and Labradford's more ambient and gentler pieces. If you are a fan of either band (as I am) then I would say you should definitely have a listen to this, if you're new to these bands then come back for this later!
That's it folks a bit of a mega post with plenty to check out if you are new to these bands then I suggest checking out Labradford's "Mi Media Naranja" and Pan American's self titled debut first if you like both of those go nuts! If you're a casual fan then now you can complete your collection! Either way I hope you enjoy some fine music!
PRZISION LP - Mediafire
A STABLE REFERENCE - Mediafire
LABRADFORD - Mediafire
MI MEDIA NARANJA - Mediafire
E LUXO SO - Mediafire
FIXED:::CONTENT - Mediafire
SINGLES - Mediafire
PAN AMERICAN - Mediafire
360 BUSINESS 360 BYPASS - Mediafire
SINGLES - Mediafire
AIX EM KLEMM
AX EM KLEMM - Mediafire
NOTE - One final thing in 2014 Mark Nelson & Robert Donne reunited to play music for the first time since Labradford had broken up, the results were new band Anjou ,they have released 2 albums of beatless,dark drone ambience not a million miles from those type of parts of Labradford or a darker Stars Of The Lid. I have not included them in this post because it falls outside the timeline covered however I have both albums if anyone wants them uploading I will happily put an addendum to this post. Also I have mentioned Stars Of The Lid another Kranky records band a few times in here I can do a post on them if anyone's interested? so feel free to comment.