A formidable release schedule with frequent white label drops and other curios means that L.I.E.S. is sometimes hard to keep up with. American Noise is the imprint's first compilation and an olive branch to overwhelmed would-be fans: an easy-to-digest retrospective in CD format. It also sort of feels like bragging. Four tracks into the first disc—a collection of already-released L.I.E.S. highlights—and we've already experienced the New Age splendour of Jahiliyya Fields, Steve Moore's trance conjuring, Marcos Cabral's post-punk Balearic and Legowelt's sensually squelchy "Sark Island Acid." That's not to mention later highlights, like Torn Hawk's bleary space rock or Bookworms' unforgettably unhinged "African Rhythms."
The album of new material follows in tandem. It's ostensibly the bigger attraction of American Noise, as something tells me the label's fans are the obsessive collector type anyways. Torn Hawk kicks off in full-on shock mode with "This Is Crime & Lace," where a drum loop is assaulted by a gauntlet of flanging and distortion until it sounds like Throbbing Gristle being chewed up by a bad tape deck. Legowelt's "Ferns of Draconis" offers up a cloudy-skies version of his texturally rich recent work, while Bookworms' "360 Waves" is a sleek Italo respite amidst all the analogue fog. Delroy Edwards tests listeners' patience (as usual) with the pounding fuzz of "Feelings," but the unquestionable highlight is Chicago unknown Svengalisghost's "Untitled." At once stranger and more clear-headed than his Mind Control EP, the phased percussion and unseemly Halloween synths are both light-hearted and deadly serious, a stunner from one of Morelli's best secret weapons.
American Noise's two discs are full of the imprint's most zoned-out, experimental music. The dance floor is only considered peripherally, a strident reinforcement of the "private funk" that RA's Philip Sherburne conceptualized to describe Terekke's whisper-house "Pf Pf Pass" back in 2011. It's not "outsider dance" or "hipster house," it's amorphous and experimental music that sometimes takes on recognizable forms of house or techno.
All of this comes down to Ron Morelli. While his tracks (he appears on the compilation as part of Two Dogs In A House) are far from mediocre, his talent here lies in his curation—some preternatural gift for snatching up little-known talent. The quality control of L.I.E.S. is stunning in itself, but I'm more taken aback as to how a label could emerge with a roster composed mostly of unknowns and make it seem star-studded anyway. This is an imprint that does whatever the fuck it wants, and has nearly everyone that has ever caught a taste wondering where it will go next. American Noise doesn't provide a clear answer, but instead provides several forking paths—and if we know L.I.E.S. at all by now, in 2013 it'll probably just take all of them at once.