Various Artists: Song of the Silent Land

Kevin Jagernauth

Various Artists

Song of the Silent Land

Label: Constellation
US Release Date: 2004-09-07
UK Release Date: 2004-09-06

The first record I ever bought by a Constellation artist was Godspeed You! Black Emperor's debut album, f#a# infinity. The vinyl package was truly something to behold. The jacket was made from textured cardboard, embossed with band's name, and featured a photograph pasted to the front by one of the band's members. Inside, more treasures awaited including an envelope (which I almost didn't even want to open) containing a penny that had been crushed by a train. For a band known for their expansive sound, the personal touch of the album's packaging was refreshing. Buying it wasn't just an exercise in commerce, but it felt like a shared experience between the band, the label and listener.

The label's attention to detail, and willingness to make music more than a mere commodity, quickly made Constellation a name in the indie-rock world. As the label enters its eighth year, their roster has also grown, reflecting a desire to work with artists who are not only friends, but who embody a similar spirit of individuality. Song of the Silent Land, originally a tour-only CD, has now been released to retail, and marks the first compilation ever released by Constellation.

Song of the Silent Land isn't just a celebration of the artists on the roster, but also of the label's ideals. The CD digipack case brings back a similar textured cardboard used on f#a# infinity, and the artwork and text have been done in beautiful blue metallic foil printing. It is a beautiful and fitting tribute to the music and artists contained on the disc.

Spanning 14 tracks, Song of the Silent features exclusive material by the label's entire roster (except a previously available track by Black Ox Orkestar). Unfortunately, the tracks by some of the label's biggest artists are a disappointment. Do Make Say Think, whose album Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn was one of year's last finest, deliver a track that distills the entire record into a five-minute track. The band is known for their expansive, exploratory sound, but this reduction plays against the group's strengths and is not a fair representation of the dynamics they usually put to disc. Unquestionably the label's biggest artist, Godspeed You! Black Emperor contribute an adequate live track, but something from their out-of-print cassette All Lights Fucked on the Hairy Amp Drooling would've been a treat.

The label's lesser-known acts, however, make some solid contributions, highlighting the depth of Constellation's stable of acts. Elizabeth Anka Vajagic's The Sky Lay Still is a remarkable piece, punctuated by Vajagic's beautiful voice. "String of Lights" by Sofa is perhaps the most straight-ahead song on the disc, a mournful number that recalls the somber pop of acts like Low, Codeine, and Kepler. Toronto's Polmo Polpo create lovely pastiche of sound with "Dreaming (,,,Again)" and a burst of spunky garbage can electronics come courtesy of Re:'s "Slippage".

In an era of street teams, Internet advertising, and lifestyle marketing, Constellation's approach is a breath of fresh air. By choosing to engage their customers as music lovers and not as consumers, the label has built a reputation by the quality of their roster, not by the effectiveness of their ad campaigns. This attitude has fostered a relationship with their clientele that is based on a shared love of music. Song of the Silent is perfect example of the aesthetic -- both musically and artistically -- that Constellation has worked very hard to cultivate. Their work ethic is proof that a record label can be a labor of love and not strictly enterprise. As the label continues to inspire with their eclectic roster and steadfast determination to do it their own way, here's hoping for another seven strong years for Constellation.

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