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It's a label showdown!
Metronomicon Audio vs. Jester Records - Round 7
coverpic coverpic Center of the Universe: Taking a Nap With
  (2001 Metronomicon Audio: MEAU.0007.CDR)
vs.
Ulver: Perdition City
  (2000 Jester Records TRICK-007 - CD)

Welcome to round 7 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
We believe that Taking a Nap With the C.O.U. is presented in the typical Metronomicon fashion - a CD-R packed in a flexible plastic sleeve with inserts, and a booklet containing art and the lyrics. We have never seen it though. Thanks to Jørgen Skjulstad (Mr. Metronomicon and C.O.U.'s main man) for providing the MP3 files of the album for this review!

The Ulver release comes in a jewel case and includes a folded insert with art, info & lyrics.
coverpic coverpic coverpic

The match

Ulver's explorations of new sounds continues. The first minutes of "Lost in Moments" even introduces a saxophone, lushly played by Rolk Erik Nystrø, in a way that makes me think of the Norwegian 80's "underworld" detective flick Blackout. Although not a very good movie, it did try to convey some of the same disillusioned feeling of sadness and beauty that is suggested here. The saxophone returns on "Dead City Centres", which after a submarine intro, enters a swing theme with film noir style narration, reminiscent of John Zorn's Spillane It's a GOAL!.

Otherwise the music here is based on slower, electronic, mostly hip hop style rhythmic themes, interspersed with more atmospheric, partly ambient bits. This way of producing dynamics within songs is perhaps overused ("Hallways of Always", "Tomorrow Never Knows") Oooops, a yellow card!, but overall Ulver lay out their very own quite intriguing technological wasteland It's a GOAL!, upon where they add more "organic" instruments like piano and saxophone, and occasionally the human voice, creating their by now familiar "biomechanical" melancholy. Sometimes they sound like Portishead ("Porn Piece of the Scars of Cold Kisses"), but the overall content of Ulver's music is probably too eerie for chill-out sessions. That is, unless you find staring into an existential black hole comforting. After all, the album title means something like "utter destruction city" or "eternal damnation city", and with song titles like "We are the Dead" and "Nowhere/Catastrophe" you are warned.

Some light and beauty shines through though, like in the middle of "The Future Sound of Music", where an angelic choir appears, like the passing of the Elves in The Lord of the Rings, with darkness lurking around. It's like if there is anything good happening, any sign of light, it's seen through the rear view mirror - ahead lies nothing Oooops, a red card!It's a GOAL!. Can there be a happy ending in Perdition City? The closing "Nowhere/Catastrophe" suggests probably not: "And your personality fades away; your features evaporate, your body decomposes; and your last thought is that you have become a noise; a thin, nameless noise among all the others; Howling in the empty dark room".

The booklet included contains a transcript of a conversation between S and G, showing most of all that Ulver like to intellectualize their work. Nothing wrong with that, but I gather their average listener, me included, will find it a bit hard to come to grips with Ulver's philosophical ambitions. Lyrically and conceptually this is a really depressing journey Oooops, a yellow card!, if you take it all to heart. But musically it's more dualistic, and more varied. Dark, for sure, but experimental, and with a clear direction, and much beneath the surface It's a GOAL!. To sum it up: Ulver have left extreme metal suburbia for good and found a new home in experimental trip hop dystopia. To be continued ...

Out of the black and into the blue. Taking a Nap With the Center of the Universe feels quite comforting after a tour of Perdition City. (These albums complement each other nicely, as they are extreme opposites in many ways.)

This is the most mellow release from C.O.U. so far, you may almost call it a collection of lullabies. The opening "Not Even a Trace or a Shade of a Thought" is simply exquisite with its beautiful melody and guitar playing. Soundwise it's a step away from the typically dry closet-like earlier productions, adding space, especially to the nicely played accompanying guitar. Together with the lush keyboard and folky flute this song easily becomes one of my favourite C.O.U. tunes so far It's a GOAL!. Even the singing is mostly in tune. The next track, "It's Not the Meaning of Life, it's Just a Part of it", goes back to a dryer production, and the singing is yet again out of key here and there Oooops, a yellow card!. The song itself is run-of-the-mill C.O.U., nice, but forgettable. "In a Dream a Friend Gave Me a Key" continues in the same vein, but halfway through it gets more interesting, with twin acoustic guitar solos and increasing use of reverb, landing the song on the plus side.

For some reason, the vocals on "I Throw a Stone into the Water" are very muddled, sounding like they were recorded through a big ball of cotton. The result is annoying, like a person with a very severe cold is singing to you inches from your face Oooops, a red card!. The song itself is again rather anonymoys. After the short instrumental interlude of "Something is Disturbing Sissyfus' Daydreams", the vocals become heavily distorted with "When the Moon is Like an Arrow, Pointing Where to Find You". The interplay between the guitar and the soft keyboard is flowing along beautifully It's a GOAL!, ending ending with a gypsy violin solo. Clearly another highlight of the album. I also like the melancholy of "Tales are Often Held as Prisoners", but the edge of the sadness is somewhat dulled by the coziness that often follows the C.O.U. songs and productions, as opposed to the purer melancholy of the opening track. The lenghty ending title track seems to be an improvisational piece with kind of new-age feeling, flowing around keyboard-based fumblings that goes nowhere in particular. To sum it up: C.O.U. has gone acoustic on this release, the arrangements are sparse, the songs are gentle and reflective. An overall nice & cozy album, but only a couple of tracks really stand out here. Of these, "It's Not the Meaning of Life, it's Just a Part of it" is on the other hand close to magical!

Match result: Metronomicon Audio 2 (It's a GOAL!Oooops, a yellow card!Oooops, a red card!It's a GOAL!) - Jester Records 4 (It's a GOAL!Oooops, a yellow card!It's a GOAL!Oooops, a red card!It's a GOAL!Oooops, a yellow card!It's a GOAL!)

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 ... 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
05 Täppas Strepens: Beans, Bacon ... Oooops, a red card!It's a GOAL!Oooops, a yellow card!It's a GOAL! Bogus Blimp: Men-Mic It's a GOAL!It's a GOAL!Oooops, a yellow card!It's a GOAL!It's a GOAL! 2 4
06 Now We've Got Members: Curious .. It's a GOAL!It's a GOAL!Oooops, a yellow card! Ulver: Metamorphosis It's a GOAL!Oooops, a yellow card! 2 1
07 C.O.U.: Taking a Nap With It's a GOAL!Oooops, a yellow card!Oooops, a red card!It's a GOAL! Ulver: Perdition City It's a GOAL!Oooops, a yellow card!It's a GOAL!Oooops, a red card!It's a GOAL!Oooops, a yellow card!It's a GOAL! 2 4
Total 12 16

Next match
Next head-to-head meeting is the Täppas Strepens album The Future Will Be Better Tomorrow release from Metronomicon Audio which is up against the Bogus Blimp release Cords.wires from Jester Records.

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