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It's a label showdown!
Metronomicon Audio vs. Jester Records - Round 4
coverpic coverpic Cyrano & Center of the Universe (C.O.U.): s/t
  (2001 Metronomicon Audio: MEAU.0004.CDR)
vs.
When: Psychedelic Wunderbaum
  (1999 Jester Records TRICK-004 - CD)

Welcome to round 4 in the label showdown series between Metronomicon Audio and Jester Records! Since we've more or less totally missed out on reviewing the output of these two great labels, we are going through their entire catalogues, matching the releases from each label consecutively against each other. Humorously counting goalsIt's a GOAL! and giving out yellowOooops, a yellow card! and redOooops, a red card! cards, soccer style - but first of all reviewing the music. For more introductory information on this label match, see round 1.

Match preview
Cyrano & Center of the Universe is presented in the typical Metronomicon fashion - a CD-R packed in a flexible plastic sleeve with cardboard folder containing art & information.
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The When release comes in a jewel case and includes a folded insert with art, info and some lyrics.
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The match
When is Lars Pedersen's (Holy Toy) long lasting solo project, releasing several noteworthy albums during the late 80's & early 90's, starting out rather dark, but moving towards psychedelic pop, not a big surprise, since Last James, another Pedersen project, is heavily influenced by 60's pop psychedelia. However, a typical pre-2000 When release is a mix of samples, cut-up techniques, loops and sound collages, creating playful, surrealistic, adventurous and somewhat horror-filled constructions. The When back catalogue is definitely worth checking out, and if you should come across some of the earlier albums on vinyl, pick them up blindly! But it's matchday and the focus is on Psychedelic Wunderbaum.

In addition to sampling, Pedersen is credited on this album with farfisa organ, mellotron, bass, percussion and voice. (The title and this information makes one assume that we're in for a pleasant psych-pop journey, but that's not the case!) To this guitars is added by Bjørn Sorknes (known from his contributions to among other things the classic Holy Toy release Warszawa). The short opening track "Time Ago" has a 60's feel to it, and the bassoon-like samples are fun in this garagey setting, but ends with a rather jumpy collection of moods. "Extremist Cow" is based around a simple bass pattern, but more experimental, more hectic rhythms, the vocals distorted to the barely recognizable, the repetetive loops rather more annoying Oooops, a yellow card! than pleasing to listen to. "Snowfish" combines cut-ups of Norwegian Hardanger fiddle and human or dog barks over fast bass drum patterns, with symphonic breaks - mildly chaotic and cacophonous, also pretty tiresome Oooops, a yellow card! to listen to. "As-Speak-You-Are" is calmer, but its short and repetetive soundbits collage again feels kind of annoying. "Young Feet Flush" samples perhaps too obvious and overused psychedelic phrases like "let's take a trip" and "turn on", "tune in", "drop out" over a funky collage with a Beck feeling - but once again it's too repetetive and nagging Oooops, a yellow card! to become a favourite. The slow and melodic "Kali" feels like arriving at an oasis It's a GOAL!, calm and refreshing, very beautiful, especially the organ-driven refrain. The album's absolute highlight for me. "Channel 7" is just a short sci-fi transport to "Footsteps", whose marching footsteps continues the journey, holding together a collection of of loops, until the marching fades and we're left with only glitches of samples reaching through - where we have arrived I have now idea. "The Intrepid Traveller" starts out as more traditional pop, some sort of fast 60's dance music but with distorted singing and eccentric breaks, it almost develops into a noisy cacophony before it abruptly ends. "Track 10" is a very eclectic collection of samples appearing, looping, and disappearing.

To sum it up, I have problems enjoying large parts of this When album, due to the massive amount of short looping samples and soundbits that creates a listening experience very far from a psychedelic wunderbaum, whether you think of "Wunderbaum" the car air freshener or "wunderbaum" the beautiful but poisonous plant. Too often this feels like having an obsessive mental repeat-button, and without the When darkness, the result seems rather aimless and exhausting Oooops, a red card!. Compared to earlier When albums, there is a lack of a stronger concept and more coherence, in spite of a few soundbits being re-used in more than one song. As the CD itself is imprinted with the roadsign for a roundabout, this may be the concept, but being trapped in a roundabout is not a nice experience. Anyway, this makes it easier to pick the one track I really like ("Kali") from this collection. Too much of the other material here falls between two stools, but then again, it may just be me getting too comfortable in my chair.

On the fourth release by C.O.U., Skjulstad is joined by Eivind "Cyrano" Pytte Ødegård, playing a row of rhythm and keyboard instruments. Skulstad himself is as usual all over the map, playing all kinds of instruments it seems. The short opening track called "Cyrano & Sissyfus Interlude" is mellow and meditative, the piano creating a new age like introduction to the album. "I Don't Go! I Go Away!" continues with a tender piano intro and a somewhat musical-like piano theme through the verse, but the refrain is more a spooky drama, the piano staccato bassing, combined with what sounds like a surgeon's (or dentist's) drill It's a GOAL!, anyway, very similar to what you hear on the equally great track called "March of the Cosmetic Surgeons" from French Frith Kaiser & Thompson's 1990 album Invisible Means. Very impressing, my favourite C.O.U. track so far! Thomas Meidell joins in on spanish guitar and Marie-Sofie Kvamme on vocals for the nice, but forgettable folksy ballad "Magic Potion", while the instrumental "Mumu (C.O.U. mix)" is a step back to the rhythmic breaks and sounds we know well from C.O.U. by now, its boomy bass base and the organ playing etc. is not interesting enough to make this much more than a C.O.U.T.V. aquarium break Oooops, a yellow card!. "Bait Might Help" also starts out mellow, but it develops from a light pop ballad into some jazzy semi-eccentric piano soloing, and when the violin solo arrives it pushes the song into a fading dissonance. The album finishes with the soft glimmering beauty It's a GOAL! of "We are on a Journey", another low-key ballad with a subtle but lovely refrain that grows with repeated listenings.

To sum it up, it seems like Cyrano helps pushing C.O.U. one step forward with this release. It's the first C.O.U. album without any annoying parts, Skjulstad's singing has improved, and the production feels a notch better. One magnificient track, one great, and a couple of OK ones doesn't make this a really great album, but all in all it's the best C.O.U. outing yet!

Match result: Metronomicon Audio 2 (It's a GOAL!Oooops, a yellow card!It's a GOAL!) - Jester Records 1 (Oooops, a yellow card!Oooops, a yellow card!Oooops, a yellow card!It's a GOAL!Oooops, a red card!)

THE LABEL TABLE
# Metronomicon Audio (MA) Jester Records (JR) MA JR
01 C.O.U.: Darklow Oooops, a yellow card!Oooops, a yellow card!It's a GOAL! Ulver: Themes From William Blake's ... Oooops, a yellow card!It's a GOAL!It's a GOAL!It's a GOAL!Oooops, a yellow card!It's a GOAL! 1 4
02 C.O.U.: Sellout EP It's a GOAL!It's a GOAL!Oooops, a yellow card!Oooops, a yellow card! Esperanza: Esperanza Oooops, a yellow card!Oooops, a yellow card!It's a GOAL!Oooops, a yellow card!Oooops, a red card! 2 1
03 C.O.U.: Bestboy Electric Oooops, a yellow card!Oooops, a yellow card!Oooops, a yellow card!It's a GOAL! Arcturus: Disguised Masters It's a GOAL!Oooops, a yellow card!Oooops, a yellow card! 1 1
04 Cyrano & C.O.U.: s/t It's a GOAL!Oooops, a yellow card!It's a GOAL! When: Psychedelic Wunderbaum Oooops, a yellow card!Oooops, a yellow card!Oooops, a yellow card!It's a GOAL!Oooops, a red card! 2 1
Total 6 7

Next match
Next head-to-head meeting is the Täppas Strepens: Beans, Bacon and Gravity release from Metronomicon Audio which is up against the Bogus Blimp release Men-Mic from Jester Records.

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