Old Apparatus have been outliers since day one. Their earliest releases came through Deep Medi, dubstep's most stubborn traditionalists, but they definitely weren't dubstep. Instead, they showed an affinity for the serrated aggression of Nine Inch Nails and the ethereal pop of Dead Can Dance. They were mysterious, not letting on how many of them they were—never mind their names. Then they founded Sullen Tone and gained individual identities as their new label amassed a catalogue of group and solo EPs in just one year. Compendium, as its name implies, is a collection of the best of these releases.
Considering the record is a hodgepodge of band and solo tracks, it holds up surprisingly well as a long-player—a testament to the collective's shared aesthetic. Compendium is a doom-and-gloom procession of slurred vocals and blurred textures. From the stirring opener "Zimmer" through to the grandiose new age of "Lingle," the record is driven by subtle shifts in the sombre mood. It peaks with "Chicago," where a trilling piano figure flutters above Autechre-style machinery. It's the epitome of the group's beguiling sound, and a definite career-high.
Old Apparatus have almost nothing to do with what's going on around them—a rarity in the increasingly cross-referential world of electronic music. Compendium sounds like music that was made in some underground bunker, hiding away from the world with only dim memories to work with. Sure, they have the occasional 2-step beat ("Mernom"), but they prefer a spectral, Thom Yorke-like voice ("Derren") to a chirpy R&B sample, and John Hughes-style melodrama ("Dourado") over straightforward beats.
Compendium winds down with "Realise," an assortment of strings, woodwind instruments and what sounds like a sitar all marching fatalistically to some unseen point on the horizon. It's beautiful, and there's really nothing shadowy about it at all. In the end the group aren't cult members doing strange rituals; they're just a band that likes to jam in their livingroom. Behind the pseudonyms, rumours, and occasional myth-making, Old Apparatus make emotionally gripping music that doesn't take a whole lot of effort to understand. They might still be outliers, but if their output continues like this, they won't be for much longer.