Various Artists

Teaism

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A compilation album celebrating the "art and culture" of tea? Leave it to the quaint, whimsical Brits at Static Caravan records to come up with such a quaint, whimsical, British idea. And why not, indeed? The collection opens, fittingly, with the click of a stove burner and the wail of a tea kettle, accompanied by Max de Wardener's meditative autoharp. Beyond that, most of these tracks have relatively little overt, audible connection to the subject at hand -- somewhat disappointing, but not overly surprising since this is a primarily instrumental affair. However, as several of the song titles suggest, many of the artists involved claim to have prepared their contributions while sipping a particular tea, or to have attempted evoking the feeling of drinking a certain variety. The result, especially in the album's first half, is a whole lot of calm, soothing, slow-moving pastoral electronica, from the grayscale drones and flutters of the Break-Ups' "Assam" to project coordinator Inch-Time's chiming, ISAN-esque "Snow Jewel" and AM/PM's expansive, vaguely Asian-tinged "Shennong," named for a Chinese emperor. The always-intriguing Tunng shake things up with the album's first proper song, a cut-and-paste shanty about the Boston Tea Party, complete with a computer voice reciting the names of the participants, entitled "Shove It." Also of especial interest are the sax-and-trombone-led microtonal jazz of Root70's "Immaculate Conception" and the peppy, playful glitch-IDM of Qua's "Lapsang Souchong (Iced Tea Mix)," whilst "Dollboy" sing restfully of the proper way to brew and Cibelle and Josh Weller reimagine Earl and Lady Grey as a disillusioned, fortune-seeking couple in their jaunty, folky closing duet. Nothing here is terribly riveting or dynamic, but it does make for an exceedingly pleasant, relaxing listen -- a perfect accompaniment, no doubt, to drinking a nice warm cup of tea -- as well as an appealing way to explore a loosely connected group of mostly British and Australian artists (only a handful of whom have previously recorded for Static Caravan) who are engaged in gently exploring the intersection of folk, electronic, and avant-garde composition. A nice bonus are the droll line drawings by Roy Ananda, which notes the similarity of a teaspoon to a catapult and a tea bag to a yoyo, and imagines a teapot as the hybrid of a watering can and a piggy bank.

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