Review Summary: A perfect blend of machine-like density and dark, organic melodies, Compendium plays out like a haunting, visceral dream.
Old Apparatus is a collective of four London producers who broke into the scene through Mala's Deep Medi Musik, a label known for releasing dubstep music in its most traditional form from some of the most well-known producers of the style. It's a bit of an odd place for Old Apparatus to release music, because even though their earlier output was rooted a bit more firmly in the dubstep formula, there was always an aspect of experimentation present that typically isn't found among other Medi releases. It makes sense then, that as the elusive group expanded on that experimentation and grew more distant from their traditional label-mates, Old Apparatus broke off to form their own label Sullen Tone to put out their latest four EPs, from which the contents of Compendium
were picked. It's a collaboration of sorts, but the track selection and ordering seems to be calculated in a way that makes Compendium
function like a proper album rather than a collection of tracks. If the sounds present on these most recent EPs were to be pinned to a single genre, they would likely fall on a higher plane along the outer edge of dubstep, among genre-stretching producers like Burial and Shackleton. But much like them, Old Apparatus's appeal comes largely from their ability to break out of any traditional genre constraints for more freedom to focus entirely on mood, atmosphere, and the more organic, human aspects of the music.
Right from the start, opener “Zimmer” reveals Compendium
's general concept. The first half's droning dissonance climaxes into static noise which slowly subdues itself until it takes the shape of a soft, rainy backdrop to the cascading synth-lines, revealing small rays of sunshine through the cloudy covering that lies over the majority of the album. For every sound here that's rooted in dissonance and cold, industrial rumblings, there's always something warmer and more familiar present, even if it's hidden beneath layers of ominous, machine-like murmurs, and Old Apparatus are at almost all times more organic than their most life-like contemporaries. On the first half of the album, distant vocal tracks reveal a human aspect in the form of a tortured soul, whose painful cries are heard struggling to break free from the noisy atmospherics that obstruct any true clarity of the vocals beyond their obvious pain. Even in their clearest presence when taking the forefront of the album's most immediate track “Derren”, the vocals are drenched in the same droning reverb that defines much of Have A Nice Life's somber aesthetic.
In the latter half of the album, the mood is strikingly more uplifting, or if it's never truly uplifting it is at least less sinister, because Compendium
is always shrouded in a thin layer of darkness even when its organic instrumentation begins to shine. And yet with this mood shift, the album still flows surprisingly well. Part of the smooth transitioning comes from the fact that everything here is built from the same mold. The hopeful piano melody that's repeated on “Chicago” is covered in the same growing, dirty haze that progresses alongside the ever-expanding vocal melodies that make up “Lingle”. Most importantly though, within every dark piece on Compendium
there are rays of light, and within every light piece there are haunting shadows, and on some tracks it can be hard to tell which is which. Closer “Realise” is the best example of this idea, where the general feeling of the strained synth-work initially seems uplifting, but in its airy middle section every bright chord that hangs in the air is followed by something darker. The tracks likely are not meant to specifically be interpreted in a single way, and some of the layering on the album is dense enough that an entirely different side of the music can reveal itself across multiple listens.
The aesthetic make-up here provides enough ambiance to get lost in over and over again, and tracks like “Octofish” play themselves out using only beatless, slow-burning drones and whispers, but most of Compendium
's content has a much more demanding immediacy. Sometimes it's found in the rumbling basslines that dominate the low-end. Other times it's in the unstoppable trampling of a complex drum rhythm. But regardless of how it's accomplished, every second of Compendium
offers enough substance to appeal on multiple levels and reveal more of itself every time its haunting dreamscapes unfold.
Old Apparatus have only been putting music out since 2011, and this is technically not even a proper album. But there's so much happening on these ten tracks that I could write pages about each individual one and I still wouldn't come close to fully explaining their impact. The fact that a compilation of four different works sounds so complete and planned is a testament to how focused and on-point Old Apparatus is already, and if this isn't a proper album, I can only imagine how flawless their first full-length will be, if they do eventually make one. Not much has been made public about the people behind the Old Apparatus name, but Compendium
will tell you all that you need to know.