Saturday, February 16, 2008
It is hard to overstate the importance of Labradford. Other bands have sold more records and have been given more praise. But very few have exerted the long term influence Labradford have and not many can claim to have inspired musicians across as broad a range of genres. Musicians like Kid 606 and Clouddead have stated in print that the recordings of Labradford inspired them to think beyond the structural limits of indie rock.
After releasing a debut 7" single in the spring of 1993, Labradford recorded their debut album with Rob Christensen late nights at American University in Washington, DC. Prazision LP happened to be the initial release on kranky, an opener that we will always be grateful for. The sprawl of Carter Brown's organ and analog synths and Mark Nelson's faintly melodicized guitar lines had lots of precedents, but nobody on the American indie rock scene was anywhere close to Labradford's unique ambient songcraft and textural grit in late 1993. The band's first Chicago show, opening up for Archers of Loaf, was an indication of exactly where Labradford fit into the indie rock spectrum at the time. A Labradford track was included on Kevin Martin's Virgin compilation Isolationism, placing the band in a non-scene context with contemporaries like Main, Paul Schutze, Jim O'Rourke and Disco Inferno. Based in Richmond, VA the duo expanded to a trio with the addition of Bobby Donne; who had played bass in the seminal math-rock trio Breadwinner. The addition of Donne's plangent bass lines (and eventually, his use of a sampler) broadened the band's sound. A second album, A Stable Reference came out in 1995. Tours of the U.S. and Europe with bands like Stereolab and Tortoise brought the trio more notice and the opportunity to releases singles on the Merge and Duophonic label. By the time "post-rock" had coalesced into short hand for imagination-challenged music writers (let's say around 1996); Labradford were recognized as one of the early entrants in a movement that nobody really wanted to put the energy into defining.
At the time of their third album, analog synth fetishists, cocktail nation fritterers and the dabblers in drum and bass and beat science all swirled around like june bugs on a summer night. Labradford released their self-titled album and tapped into an even wider range of sonic detail and sweep. The presence of violin and eventually a string trio and hammered dulcimer on the Mi Media Naranja album showed that the trio were as tuned into chamber music and old-timey American music as they were to retro-futurism. Labradford were creating work that looked beyond the enthusiasms of the moment.
"Clearly, it's easy to take the piss out of Labradford's still, slow music of tiny variations, and much harder to describe why their records are frequently such unnerving and lovely affairs... thanks to their absolute focus on sound over image, and their evident refusal to conform to any of the postures and prerequisites the dullard traditionalists would love to see in every band. ... For sure, it's a ruthlessly disciplined record... But there's also a strain of warmth, of vulnerability that elevates, say 'Battered', above a wintry experiment and into much more humane territory."
John Mulvey, New Musical Express Jan. 10 1997
Labradford began a series of shows in the U.K. called Drifting Festivals with artists who shared their interest blurring the edges of genre. Dean Roberts, Bruce Gilbert, John Martyn, Matmos, Caspar Brotzmann and other musicians from different contexts and generations played together.
Mark Nelson moved to Chicago and began releasing music under the name Pan•American. The trio had to unite periodically to rehearse and record. Long distance collaboration yielded the E Luxo So album.
"An evolution of sound is a tricky proposition for most bands. As the years pass, many artists drift into some form of nostalgia or retreading of their past 'hits'. Not Labradford. The Richmond, Virginia group has, over the course of four albums, refined their sound improving with each effort while not making their previous works obsolete. ...electronic-dub and cut-ups appear... grounding the album in future dreams as much as their music's woodframe-house timelessness. An ambiguous desolation runs through this album, songs that evoke longing and waiting through long winters or hot summers. But even in their darkness Labradford are far from pretentious, another reason why they qualify as America's best underground band of the Nineties."
Tomas Palermo, XLR8R Issue 37
The most recent Labradford album,Fixed::Context, was recorded in Chicago with Steve Albini engineering. even given the band's extensive use of sampling and digital editing, the album reverberates with the sound of three people playing together in one room. Bobby Donne added a distinctive baritone guitar and beginning with the opening track "Twenty" a new and distinctive approach emphasizing austerity asserted itself.