V/A: Some Paths Lead Back Again: A compilation by The Marcia Blaine School For Girls (Highpoint Lowlife Records, 2005)
One would not be faulted for thinking the music contained on Some Paths Lead Back Again was ballet or classical music, on the basis of a cursory glance of the cover art. The beautiful and elegant artwork features a drawing of a saintly woman feeding birds, while the text reads “Some Paths Lead Back Again: A compilation by The Marcia Blaine School For Girls”. The only hint that this package contains something less benign is found on the back cover, where the logo of revered UK electronic music label Highpoint Lowlife is located. The pristine looking artwork of Some Paths Lead Back Again belies the fact that this sprawling two disc collection of 19 tracks (and 3 videos on the enhanced Disc 2) features stunning electronic-ambient music from a wide array of Scotland’s finest electronic bands. Indeed, for the uninitiated, The Marcia Blaine School For Girls is not a school trying to raise money for charity, but a mysterious Scottish electronic group that is bestowed the responsibility of compiling music from the Scottish underground electronic scene. What results from their efforts is a fascinating assortment of varying styles and moods of electronic/ambient electronic music.
Most of the music on Some Paths Lead Back Again majors on minimalist ambient electronica (akin to the more guitar-drone based sounds of a, say, Stars of the Lid). In fact, all of the musical offerings on both disc of Daigoro, Accrual, The Village Orchestra, The Marcia Blaine School For Girls, and Rose and Sandy fit this vibe, as each band offers variation on subtle and sparse electronics that create various moods such as peace, tranquility, darkness, isolation, and warmth. In fact, Disk 1 of Some Paths Lead Back Againfeatures as a climax the lush atmosphere of The Marcia Blaine School For Girls’ “Routed to the Spot”, a study of gorgeous waves of sound washing over each each other in bliss. Disk 2 of Some Paths Lead Back Again, in particular, features the more ambient and minimalist side of the underground Scottish electronic scene with subtle tracks from Production Unit, Tersh Jetterax, The Village Orchestra, and others. The emphasis on subtlety and patience, along with a healthy dose of experimentalism (see Rose and Sandy’s amazing melding of field recordings and electronics on “Mapping Closure”) gives Some Paths Lead Back Again a sense of flow and cohesion rarely found on compilations.
While Some Paths Lead Back Again is mainly filled with these minimalist electronic sounds, the compilation also provides a wide array of other kinds of music that balance the compilation and holds the attention of the listener. For instance, the compilation starts off with Izu’s “It’ll All Be”, a spastic conundrum of beats and strange electronic sounds that remind me of Aphex Twin. Izu also offers the first song on Disk 2, “Now Here”, another study in assaulting beats. Production Unit offers a distorted rap song in “Ruskoline Monster”, which features chunky beats and ominous background sounds (and is, curiously, my early favourite song on the whole compilation). On the last song of Disc 1, “Aviaphobia”, Chris Dooks sings in his sumptuous Scottish accent a haunting song about the fear of flying. The song, featuring only Dooks’ pensive voice, is a break from the lap-top based compositions featured on the disc.
Some Paths Lead Back Again also offers 3 videos on Disk 2 that interpret the ambient electronic sounds of Accrual, The Village Orchestra, and Somniscope in abstract visuals that perfectly fit the music. Each video has its own feel, with “Reprise” consisting of footage of controlled static, “Lumimotion” appearing to portray fast forward of footage of technology, and “Jacob Band Hands” featuring computer generated graphics that mystify the viewer.
As if the beautiful (if a tad misleading) packaging, excellent music, and enhanced extras of Some Paths Lead Back Again was not enough, Highpoint Lowlife offers a companion EP in conjunction to the release, featuring 3 more tracks available for free download. Taken as a whole, Some Paths Lead Back Again is an overwhelmingly impressive compilation that features superbly packaged, high quality music and enhanced material that will fascinate and stretch music fans. While the compilation is an obvious purchase for electronic music fans, fans of more soundscape/drone oriented music will also be pleased with it. On Some Paths Lead Back Again, The Marcia Blaine School For Girls and their friends have done a magnificent job of representing their country’s fertile underground electronica scene Highly recommended.