London-based All Saints Records decided to celebrate its relaunching (it was mostly silent from 2001-2004) by releasing Compounds + Elements, an 18-track compilation album showcasing the span and quality of the label. Though All Saints started in 1991 with producing almost solely ambient music, it has expanded since its birth and now concerns itself more with innovation in the approach to the music rather than genre. This is not to say that there are any particularly unexpected pieces here: Harold Budd and Brian Eno, the label's biggest names, are both heavily featured. There are songs from six of Eno's records, which does make sense -- he is the father of ambient music, after all. "Neroli," from the album of the same name, with its calm, meandering bass, is roomy and suggestive, a true minimalist masterwork. Eno describes "Neroli" as "like opening your window onto an orange grove in high summer," which might be a bit of an exaggeration (especially since the song is mixed at such a low decibel level that it's difficult to even hear), but his point is well taken. These songs do present an image, an idea, a fleeting sensation, a story, and it's up to the listener to decide what exactly that is. While the first part of the album offers a modal exploration into the world of ambient music and soundscapes, the second part picks up the tempo and adds some groove, beginning with Jon Hassell's "Out of Adedara." Driven along by rolling jungle beats, Hassell shows off his trumpet skills by turning his instrument into traffic sounds and train horns, a jazz guitar accenting the movement of the piece. Newcomer Vacabou offers the most traditionally structured of any of the tracks, the Europop-ish "Russia in White," and even Eno's "Fractal Zoom" has a funky feel. Surprisingly, the strangest -- and perhaps best -- piece on this album is one that is the least ambient. John Cale (of Velvet Underground and punk-producer fame) presents an orchestral interpretation of 20th century Welsh poet Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night," using a children's choir, plenty of strings, and Cale himself passionately singing the poem's stanzas. Compounds + Elements is certainly not all-encompassing, either of genre or of All Saints' catalog, but it's a nice collection of well-put-together and thoughtful songs, and a good way to reintroduce the label to the world.
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AllMusic Review by Marisa Brown